TAXPAYERS SAVINGS MUNICIPAL AMENDMENT ACT (OTTAWA-CARLETON REGION), 1998 / LOI DE 1998 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR LES MUNICIPALITÉS AFIN QUE LES CONTRIBUABLES RÉALISENT DES ÉCONOMIES FISCALES (RÉGION D'OTTAWA-CARLETON)
Mr Alex Cullen (Ottawa West): Today in Ottawa-Carleton parents learned the real impact of the Mike Harris revolution. They learned that, thanks to Mike Harris's new funding formula, their children would lose classroom help that just yesterday the government said it would provide. Well, actions speak louder than words.
Because of this government's education funding formula, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board finds itself some $37 million short. To make this up, it will lay off over 600 employees. Unfortunately, this will include school psychologists, social workers and speech and language pathologists, who help children with learning disabilities. As a matter of fact, one in four of these school psychologists and speech and language pathologists will be losing their job.
That means we will see, along with the other cuts the school board will be dealing with, some $16 million cut from special education, from kids who need it most to succeed in school, in the name of the Mike Harris Common Sense Revolution.
I just want to make sure that everyone understands the consequences of this Mike Harris revolution. Actions do speak louder than words, and unfortunately, children who have real learning needs will find that these needs will not be met. This will be thanks to a government that's intent on finding funds for an income tax cut.
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): People in Niagara region and indeed across this country are shocked, outraged, disturbed and extremely angry about what has now been two violent desecrations, attacks, on Niagara's Jewish cemetery in St Catharines.
This conduct, these acts, are the most vile and despicable things that could be done in any society anywhere in this world. They're crimes not only against the Criminal Code but against any sense of morality, and the perpetrators of these crimes have no place in our communities or in our society.
I appeal to this government to ensure that the Niagara Regional Police have every possible resource put at their disposal during the course of their investigation and that this Attorney General monitor the prosecution of these charges to ensure that the prosecution occurs without compromise, without concession, and that when convictions are obtained the maximum penalty available under law be imposed upon the despicable perpetrators of this unhuman and totally intolerable conduct.
This supports the Ministry of Education's new science and technology curriculum and the updating of apprenticeship programs. There are satisfying and high-paying jobs in the trades, and we must make students aware of this.
When visiting Barrie Welding with Minister Tsubouchi, President Brian Smith expressed frustration at the shortage of skilled millwrights, welder-fitters and computer numerical control technicians. In fact, Barrie Welding has three machines sitting idle on some shifts due to the lack of skilled workers.
The Industrial Research and Development Institute in Midland is a fine example of the partnerships which need to be established between industry, research and education. The founders of this training centre developed the concept for an educational and technical institute to support Canada's manufacturers. IRDI operates through memberships with manufacturers and in partnership with Georgian College.
Ms Annamarie Castrilli (Downsview): Since 1995, it is estimated that over six million people of North Korea's 23 million people have died of starvation. The hardest hit are the children and the elderly. The German Red Cross estimates that as many as 10,000 children have been dying each month. This number includes 45% of all children under age six. On top of this, 74% of the elderly over the age of 60 have died under horrendous conditions, where they receive such meagre amounts of food that it results in many being almost blind from malnutrition and being unable to walk.
On Monday of this week, a group of prominent Canadians have launched a campaign from Toronto to make people aware of the starvation caused by the widespread famine in North Korea. Led by Dr Joseph Wong, Canadians for North Korean Famine Relief declared April 27 a day of action and thenceforth has determined to collect funds for foods to be sent to those most in need and to make Ontarians aware of this very serious situation. The Canadian federal government has agreed to donate $4 for every dollar raised by this group for such an important cause.
We in the Ontario Liberal Party applaud Dr Wong and his group for their efforts on behalf of all North Koreans, especially the children and the elderly. We express our sympathy to the people of North Korea. People all over the world have been shocked by the miserable conditions created by this unprecedented tragedy.
In what can only be described as a shameful display, Liberal MP after Liberal MP voted to deny compensation to innocent hepatitis C victims infected before 1986. What should have been a humanitarian debate turned into a loyalty contest directed by a Prime Minister determined to show that he could rally the troops when he needed to. This is from a government that wants to convince people it can be trusted to do the right thing when it comes to the protection of public health.
After the vote Health Minister Allan Rock declared, "This file is closed." This is an insult to tens of thousands of people and their families for whom the file will never be closed. Their suffering will continue.
The issue here should not have been whether some were lucky enough to be infected after a certain date, the issue is whether part of a large group of innocent, suffering people receive help from their own government.
There are many examples where the government has stepped in to help when they didn't have the legal obligation to do so. This winter's ice storm is a recent example. The Dionne sisters is another. We aren't talking about property damage here, though: we're talking about people's health.
My question is: Why would the Liberals work so hard with the Mike Harris government to ensure that innocent hepatitis C victims are denied compensation, are denied the justice and the compassion they deserve?
Mr R. Gary Stewart (Peterborough): I rise today in the House to advise the members of the official opening of the new learning resource centre at Sir Sandford Fleming College in Peterborough. This resource centre is a wonderful example of how governments and private enterprise can work together.
The Bell Institute for Learning Design was developed with the assistance of Bell Canada, the Ministry of Education and Training, Human Resources Development Canada and the Friends of Sir Sandford Fleming Foundation, with donations from individuals and corporations.
This facility combines student assessment, support services and a number of educational technologies in one facility. It is a showcase for the demonstration of new and emerging educational technologies such as videoconferencing, audio and audiographic conferencing. College staff, teachers and trainers in the public and private sector can now access curriculum and learning design services as well as the state-of-the-art computing facilities for the development of technology-based materials.
This is a fine example of what the Ministry of Education and Training is doing. By working in partnership with these other organizations and by making a contribution of $3.5 million to aid in construction costs, we are seeing the initial stages of a strategic planning initiative to be developed under Sir Sandford's master academic framework.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): We've had a very sad event in our community over the past few days. The headline in our local newspaper reads, "Hate in a Cemetery." It describes people who are desecrating gravestones of people who are of the Jewish faith, on an ongoing basis unfortunately. The motivation is clearly that of hate and nothing else.
An arrest has been made in one particular case, but that has not stopped what has happened. Gravestones again, on a second occasion, have been pushed over. Members of the Jewish community in St Catharines are in great anguish over this, as all people should be, not only in our community but across our province and our country and our world.
"Members of the Jewish community in St Catharines will be celebrating Israel's 50th birthday under a dark cloud after 43 headstones in their cemetery were vandalized over the weekend in what police are treating as a hate crime.
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): Today the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory will be officially opened in our community. In recognition of this historic event, scientists and representatives of industry and governments from Canada, the United States and Great Britain have gathered in Sudbury to participate in the opening ceremonies. We are particularly proud that Dr Stephen Hawking from Cambridge University was able to come to the community to join the celebrations.
The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory is a scientific and engineering achievement. As a scientific project, the observatory will be used to detect neutrinos, which are thought to be basic building blocks of matter. They are produced by nuclear reactions which power the sun, and their detection in the heavy water stored in the observatory will reveal information about the sun and stars which can't be obtained by any other means.
As an engineering feat, the laboratory, which is the size of a 10-storey building, is located at the 6,800-foot level of Creighton Mine. The Plexiglas sphere holding the heavy water is the largest ever built, and there are 9,500 ultrasensitive light sensors in place to observe the faint bursts of light produced by the neutrinos.
The project has been under construction since 1990 and has involved over 70 scientists from 12 institutions in Canada, the US and the UK. The funding came from a consortium of governments, government agencies and industrial supporters in Canada, the US and the UK.
Mr Bert Johnson (Perth): It is my pleasure to rise in the Legislature today in recognition of what I believe is one of the most important days of the year. Today is the day in which we celebrate the hard work and dedication of the many people in Ontario who put food on our tables. Today is Agriculture Day, and we have had many representatives from different commodity groups with us, some in the gallery today, to help us recognize that good things grow in Ontario.
Agriculture is the second largest industry in Ontario and it is a major force driving the economy. It is the agriculture sector that provides the fuel that drives the engine of Ontario forward. I am proud to say that the farmers I represent in Perth county are among the best producers in Ontario.
Ontario's agrifood industry is a world leader. The tremendous contribution which this sector makes to the provincial economy, some $25 billion every year, is a key factor in positioning Ontario as one of the best places in North America to live, work and raise a family. In the months and years ahead, our agrifood industry will continue to be a key to our success. We must ensure that the agriculture industry continues to look to the future, to remain world leaders in quality and highly competitive in both domestic and global markets.
TAXPAYERS SAVINGS MUNICIPAL AMENDMENT ACT (OTTAWA-CARLETON REGION), 1998 / LOI DE 1998 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR LES MUNICIPALITÉS AFIN QUE LES CONTRIBUABLES RÉALISENT DES ÉCONOMIES FISCALES (RÉGION D'OTTAWA-CARLETON)
Bill 9, An Act to amend the Municipal Act to provide Savings to Taxpayers in the Ottawa-Carleton Region / Projet de loi 9, Loi modifiant la Loi sur les municipalités afin de faire réaliser des économies fiscales aux contribuables de la région d'Ottawa-Carleton.
Mr Garry J. Guzzo (Ottawa-Rideau): The bill provides for a restructuring of the regional municipality of Ottawa-Carleton and its constituent municipalities by agreement of the affected municipalities or by order of a restructuring commission. The bill further provides that the restructuring shall occur on or before November 1, 2000.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): I seek unanimous consent to move without notice a motion respecting the order of routine proceedings on Thursday, April 30, 1998.
Hon Mr Sterling: If I could, I would like to thank the opposition parties for their cooperation in this matter. We are seeking to change the order tomorrow so that many members of the Legislature will have the opportunity to be here for question period but be able to attend the funeral of the spouse of one our members. I am of course referring to Mr Bassett's recent death.
I move that, notwithstanding standing order 30(a), on Thursday, April 30, 1998, the routine proceedings before the orders of the day shall be as follows: oral questions, introduction of bills, statements by the ministry and responses, members' statements, reports by committees, motions, deferred votes, and petitions.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): Mr Speaker, on a point of order: I would be willing to give consent for the remainder of the session for that to be the order, if the government House leader would like it to be the case.
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Health): I rise today to inform the House of an announcement made this morning by the Premier and myself on the most significant expansion of health services ever made in the history of our province. This announcement of $1.2 billion in long-term care and community funds will have a very positive and wide-ranging impact on our health system and improve the quality of life for all Ontarians. It will enable us to build a health system that will meet the evolving health needs of Ontarians today and into the future.
For over two and a half years, our government has moved forward with changes to build a better health system for the people of Ontario, one that finally responds to the needs of our changing, growing and aging population, a health system that will provide improved access to high quality services.
Today's announcement moves forward and it complements the hospital reforms that are being carried out as recommended by the Health Services Restructuring Commission. Today's investment moves us towards a comprehensive, coordinated health system that provides a continuum of care for people consistent with their needs. Meeting the needs of our seniors means that high-quality long-term care must be available. People over the age of 75 are the largest users of long-term-care services, and Ontario's over-75 population is expected to increase by 35% between 1998 and 2008.
This historic investment today will add 20,000 new beds for nursing homes and homes for the aged over eight years, and it will allow for the renovation of an additional 13,000 more beds in order that they can meet the new design standards which will contribute to a more home-like environment in our long-term-care facilities.
The investment also means improved access to community-based services for an additional 100,000 Ontarians in the areas of nursing, homemaking, therapy, Meals on Wheels, supportive housing and services for the physically disabled. This investment will also mean the creation of 70,000 new jobs, 27,500 of which are new front-line health jobs, including 7,900 positions for nurses and 11,350 jobs for homemakers and home care aides; and 42,500 of these jobs are construction jobs which will be available on sites throughout Ontario because these 20,000 new beds will result in the establishment of approximately 175 new facilities.
This new funding, this new level of support, will mean that more people are able to leave hospitals and receive care in their own homes. There will be less pressure on families, particularly women, who are the primary caregivers. More children with special needs will be supported at school and in their homes. These measures will also take the pressure off emergency rooms and hospital beds and significantly reduce waiting lists for nursing homes and homes for the aged.
In conclusion, today our government has taken significant steps forward to improve health services for the people of this province. Today is an exciting and important day, as we are ensuring that high-quality health services will be there for Ontarians at every stage of their lives. Today I am proud to say we are investing in people and we are building a health system that is consistent with the needs of people today and those in the 21st century.
Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): It is indeed unfortunate we don't have the Premier here to stand behind some of the words that he said earlier today about this particular announcement. This is supposed to be Mike Harris's last-minute conversion to health care; instead of cutting and slashing and taking away, as Mike Harris has done year after year, suddenly we're to believe that something is going to change and patients will be better off.
Even if this announcement had been made two and a half years ago when we might have believed that the government then had a plan for health care, we might at that time have conceded that. Instead we have an announcement over eight years. This government proposes to restore over eight long years an amount of money that is less than they have taken out of hospitals over the last two. These guys know how to cut, but when it comes to making patients the focus, being able to actually look after them, this government has an immense amount of trouble.
When the government gets into public relations mode like this, when they import the people to applaud as they did this morning at the announcement, they've got to know that there are patients out there who aren't being fooled, patients who are staring up at the ceilings in emergency room hallways, who are sitting on waiting lists for surgery, who haven't got anything to look forward to from this government except less nursing care and less access to their doctors.
This government tries to portray the beds that are being announced today as if they're brand-new; they're not. They're actually taking 3,500 beds out of chronic care hospitals where people get decent care from registered nurses, and what they're going to be offered instead is discount health care. That's what this government stands for. Instead of actually dealing with people in the way that they deserve, we have this late announcement, timed not to provide a single bed by the time of the next election, and the people of Ontario need to hold this government to account. This announcement, if it is to be believed, would amount to about $150 million a year.
Let's look back at this government's record. In 1996 they announced $170 million would be going into long-term care and all the back bench got up and applauded. What happened in 1996-97? Not one dollar got put into long-term care. In fact, as an insult to the seniors and the disabled of this province who need this care, $5 million less was actually spent by this government.
We know that this late, last-minute conversion of Mike Harris to community health care is probably not worth the paper it's printed on today. But if we look at what this government is talking about in terms of what it wants to do for people, let's just look at what the government says it might do for -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order, order. Just a minute. Government members, I think they allowed the minister to make the statement in relative calm. I would ask the government members to come to order and allow the response to be made in the same relative calm.
Mr Kennedy: I can understand why they're agitated. They've got to take this weak, watered-down package, which obviously lost out to everything else that must have come to caucus, bring it back to their communities and try and tell the seniors currently in chronic care beds why they're going to be ripped out of them and put into inferior facilities, try and tell people why this government, this Premier and this minister, didn't have the gumption, the courage to stand up and say: "Here are the standards we're going to provide. We're going to make sure that you can get the same care you're getting today when we put you in those facilities." The people being moved into these -
Mr Kennedy: Again, I understand the disappointment being expressed by the members opposite today in this announcement. It's well founded because there isn't proper protection for people today, not in the nursing homes, not in home care. We're going to have many more sick people, people who are leaving hospitals sicker and quicker. They're not going to be protected. You're not providing them with a standard of care.
What you are doing is opening up an immense bias for for-profit Americanized health care. You're making the nursing homes and the non-profit facilities pay for their facilities. You're opening up that bias. We've already seen that happen in terms of your taking the whole home care sector, the health care that people used to be able to get from nurses, and making it happen in the for-profit sector. You're making the standards go down, the nurses are being paid less and they're leaving the sector. That's what you're doing: 100% of home care is being privatized by your government this summer, and this just sets that up.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): I would say to the minister that pride goes before a fall. The kind of pride and hubris that have been expressed today by you and by the Premier around this announcement are going to be found out by people as they see what really happened.
People in Ontario are not as foolish as your government seems to think they are. People in Ontario know that the reason the need out there in the community has grown so great for the dollars you are announcing over eight years is that in the last three years you've shut down so many possibilities for them to get care in the hospitals under the Canada Health Act, where they're entitled, no matter what money they have, to a quality standard of care.
You, by your budget cuts to hospitals, have forced people out of those standardized, protected places into their communities, where you have not provided the care they needed and, as my colleague in the Liberal Party pointed out, announced money and then actually flowed less.
Those of us in this Legislature who get a chance to look at the estimates and then at the end of the year, about 18 months later, actually, look at public accounts, know the smoke and mirrors that your government is using to try and convince the people of Ontario that you're providing services to them.
This announcement makes history only because, I don't think, ever in history before have we seen a government with the nerve to make this kind of fanfare over an announcement that has absolutely no timetable whereby the money is actually going to be flowed, has no mention of the standards under which the money is going to be flowed, has absolutely no commitment to meet the immediate needs that have been identified in absolutely every community, to a community out there that has seen you stop the dollars from flowing that had been previously announced.
You say there was no improvement in long-term care. You know very well, as does your government, that there was a plan in place to revitalize long-term care across the province. You say we didn't open any beds, but in Windsor we had a wonderful facility that we funded and opened that combined chronic care and long-term care in a new mode of care that you now have taken dollars out of.
Quite frankly, Minister, you are trying to fool the people of Ontario that there's salvation coming some time in the future when in fact they're experiencing purgatory, if not hell, in the overcrowded corridors of our hospitals.
What is more, what you are doing is moving people from the publicly funded, publicly accountable health care service into the privatized area - privatized within the home, privatized within the community - in a way in which we know you will encourage large corporations to take on that care. We've all observed what you did with the CCACs - putting things out to tender, basing it on a market basis - which means that our public health care dollars, my tax dollars, are going to end up in the pockets of big corporate managers, big corporate companies, not put into the care of my community. I resent that and I think the people of Ontario will resent that as they watch you encouraging that privatization.
Minister, if you're going to do this and if you expect to get any credit for this announcement today, we are going to hold you to opening up about the actual timetable on which these dollars are going to be presented. We are going to require you to be much more accountable than this government has been about its announcements, which never see dollars flowing into the community.
We are going to be watching very carefully the efforts you make to ensure that standards of care are ensuring the continuum of care that you say you're guaranteeing to people out there in the community, because that is not what is happening under your market picture of long-term care out there under the CCAC. We are seeing that care being driven down every day.
You participated with some fanfare today, saying that there would be thousands of new beds, saying that this was a big milestone, an improvement. What you didn't say is that you're putting money ahead of patients.
Today you pay approximately $234 or $250 per day for very sick and ill patients in chronic care facilities. In this brave new world of yours, you'll pay $60 a day for patients in long-term care facilities.
Minister, why are you taking away the protections that those patients in chronic care facilities have today under the Canada Health Act and under the Public Hospitals Act? Why are you replacing 3,500 chronic care beds and the sick people who are in them? Why are you transferring them to facilities which won't provide them with those standards and a good quality of care?
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Health): As you know, the hospital association has indicated that many of the individuals who are presently being accommodated within the chronic care hospitals could appropriately be accommodated within the long-term-care sector, because what we see today in the long-term-care facilities is individuals who are older and frailer than ever before.
What our government has committed to do to ensure that the nursing and the personal care services are going to be provided is that each year there is an assessment made of individuals in the long-term-care facilities and the appropriate level of funding is provided. All people in those facilities will be funded according to the level of care that is consistent for their needs.
Mr Kennedy: Minister, in a chronic care hospital today there is a team approach that provides for that patient. There are physiotherapists, occupational therapists, registered nurses who are making sure that when a person has a degenerative disease - they start to lose function, like Gladys Conroy at Runnymede Hospital, whom you want to remove from Runnymede Hospital. When she is getting the care that she's getting there today for her Alzheimer's and advanced dementia, she is treated like a person, she is treated like an individual with the highest quality of life possible. It is nothing against long-term-care facilities to say that for the fewer dollars that you're going to give them, they're not going to be able to provide that same level of care to Gladys or to hundreds of others.
You've done it in Thunder Bay, where people had to leave chronic care facilities already. You've done it in other parts of the province. Minister, will you rethink this? Will you come up with a blended formula? I ask you very specifically, will Gladys Conroy and the other people in chronic care beds be guaranteed the same or better level of care in the future? Will you do that?
Hon Mrs Witmer: I think it's very important to recognize that our government has very carefully taken a look at the emerging needs of seniors in this province and we have made every effort to ensure that the needs of those individuals are going to be addressed, that the appropriate level of nursing and personal care will continue to be provided. As I have just said, an annual assessment is made and then the appropriate level of funding and the appropriate level of care is provided to each and every individual in this province.
Mr Kennedy: Minister, if you can't say to Gladys Conroy that she's going to get the same level of care, then all the rest of those words don't mean anything. If you can't tell Mrs Carley Sala, her daughter, who is worried - she is saying she can't understand why you're evicting her mother from her home at Runnymede Hospital, why you're doing that in pursuit of an area that we really haven't developed standards for.
You say it'll be assessed. By whose standards? Minister, it's no longer under the Public Hospitals Act, it's no longer under the Canada Health Act when a patient leaves those hospitals. Will you be adopting standards? Will you put these patients under the Canada Health Act? Will you make sure that Gladys and the other people in those 3,500 beds you are erasing get exactly the same care today and in the future that they have been getting?
Hon Mrs Witmer: We have made a commitment and that's why we made the announcement today. We have recognized that there are people throughout this province who are not receiving the level of care, the accessibility to the care that is needed. That is why today we have indicated that over the next eight years we will be building and adding to the system 20,000 new beds. Not only will we be adding 20,000 new beds, but we are going to be renovating 13,000 additional beds in older facilities in order that they can meet the present standards. In fact, we have new design standards that are intended to ensure that people living in long-term-care facilities not only get the level of care needed, not only get the level of funding, but are also provided for in a more home-like setting.
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): My question is for the Minister of Community and Social Services. Today the Ontario child advocate released a very remarkable report that documents the voices of children in Ontario's care. What is so remarkable about the report is that there is nothing new in it. Everything that was released today itemizes the leaks in your system that you have not yet addressed and you've been at it for three years. Minister, after this most damaging report, released this morning, I would like your accounting of what you are doing for the children in your care here in Ontario.
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): We were quite pleased to receive the advocate's report. As she notes in her introductory comments, for a decade kids in care have been telling adults about these same experiences, and the honourable member is quite right that these problems have existed for many years in the system.
What we are doing through our reform initiatives in the justice area, what my colleague Mr Runciman has been doing through strict discipline facilities, what we've been doing through child welfare reforms, what we've been doing with our reform initiative called Making Services Work for People, which is shifting resources to more intervention and prevention programs, all of those reforms, which are ongoing, are designed to address specifically the kinds of problems the advocate has flagged.
Mrs Pupatello: I would like you to review all the documents on my desk now. These are all reports that have a very common theme, and the common theme in all these reports dictates that there is a leak in your system that you have not addressed, and you've been at it for three years. In those three years you have not caused reform, you have not reallocated. You've cut $17 million from the operating budgets of children's aid, you've cut $14 million from services that deal with children, $8 million from children's mental health agencies right across the province. That is not reallocation, that is letting those children slip right through the cracks.
We address that in the policy we forwarded to you. It's called First Steps. We are asking you to implement these steps so we can have a seamless system. We haven't had your official response to First Steps. We want you to implement it now, not wait until we get the opportunity to do so.
Hon Mrs Ecker: With all due respect, I realize that the communication between her office and the leader's office may not be very good, but I did respond to First Steps. I sent a letter to the Leader of the Opposition outlining many of the initiatives he recommended that we indeed agree with and are proceeding with.
I would also like to point out to the honourable member that the advocate, who made many strong recommendations for change, which we are examining, and we are acting on many, also spoke of the success stories she heard when she talked to people. The children she talked to spoke of special places where special people help to mould their identity in positive and healthy ways. There were many youth in environments that were conducive to healing, in her words. She talks about the care system becoming too rigid and institutionalized, which is one of the reasons our Making Services Work for People framework, using community agencies with the expertise, is bringing forward those recommendations so children don't fall through the cracks.
Mrs Pupatello: Minister, you don't even pay your bills. The children's aid societies are in debt. You are not paying their contingency funding. You have cut services that already exist, with lineups of children waiting for intervention. That is what your record is for children in Ontario. The child advocate this morning released information that tells you that while you might call for more studies, when you say "studies" you mean stall, because what children need today is action from your government. We are asking you for action, not for letters back on our policy, but implementing what we are asking you to do. Will you do that, Minister?
Hon Mrs Ecker: I can understand why, after over 10 years of the problems existing in the system, the honourable member may have some difficulty recognizing the steps we are taking, but let me talk to you about some of those steps.
The reform in child welfare, to change the legislation, to improve the training for front-line workers, to put more money into the system - dollars that are actually out there hiring more people. We're spending more money on the child welfare system than any government has spent before: the Better Beginnings, Better Futures program that is supporting 5,000 high-risk families in this province; the Healthy Babies program that is supporting 9,000 mothers with home visits, high-risk families, to get the support they need; the $20 million for speech and language that is virtually doubling the number of preschoolers who will receive speech and language support; the 39,000 more children who got child nutrition programs. There are many reforms. We know that we need to do more. That's why I welcome the recommendations from the child advocate.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): My question is to the Attorney General. Bob Runciman did the right thing a couple of days ago when he resigned and accepted his part of the responsibility for the apparent breach of our criminal laws in Thursday's throne speech. Even your own backbenchers are now publicly recognizing that Mr Runciman did not act alone in this apparent breach. It took you five days to discharge your responsibilities as Attorney General of this province and call for the RCMP to carry on an investigation.
What I want to ask you about is what happened during that intervening period of time, particularly with respect to evidence that might be necessary in this investigation, both in the office of the Solicitor General and particularly in the Premier's office. What assurances can you give us that steps were taken to secure potential evidence, particularly in the Premier's office, during those five days that have intervened since the throne speech?
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): As I indicated yesterday, the matter has been referred to the RCMP as a result of the allegations that have been made. They are going to perform an investigation and proceed appropriately, and I have no comments to make.
Mr Silipo: Attorney General, it took you five days to carry out your responsibilities and to ask for that investigation. You hid for five days and your Premier hid for five days behind that apparent investigation, which hasn't yet started, and you have not in the meantime given us any assurances that any potential evidence that the investigation would have to look at has not been altered during that time. So I want to ask you again, how can we believe and how do you expect the people to believe that nothing has happened, in the Premier's office particularly, to change or tamper with any evidence that the RCMP might need in their investigation?
Hon Mr Harnick: All of these issues are subject to the investigation that the RCMP will be performing. The Premier has indicated very quickly and very straightforwardly that there will be full cooperation, and it would be inappropriate to make any further comments in light of the police investigation.
Mr Silipo: Let me remind the Attorney General of something that Mr Runciman said back in 1992: "...a chief adviser to himself coming into the office only a few hours before an official police investigation is launched, in the dead of night on a Sunday night, to remove files.... I like to think that if my executive assistant, for example, was accused of criminal activity, I would secure my office. I wouldn't allow my executive assistant to go in and rifle the files a few hours before the police launch their official investigation."
I ask you again, what individuals were allowed continued access to the Office of the Premier, the office of the Solicitor General, and why was there not security placed on those offices in order to protect evidence that the RCMP might need in their investigation?
Hon Mr Harnick: Again, I can't comment about the parallels to different situations that the member puts, but certainly the RCMP have been notified. There is an investigation ongoing, and any comment would be inappropriate.
Mr Silipo: Speaker, I want to go back to the Attorney General and I want to ask him about this investigation and what he did and didn't do, because as I said before, it took him five days to discharge his responsibilities, the responsibilities that he knows he has as the Attorney General, aside from being a member of cabinet, as the chief law officer of the province. It took him five days to make the request, to follow the protocol that we understand is there in the ministry, and quite frankly, we still don't know what the scope of that is, even after those five days. Will you tell us now what the scope of the investigation is that you have requested? Have you made sure, for example, in your request to the RCMP that they will have complete access to whatever offices they wish, whatever people they wish and be able to carry out their responsibilities to the fullest?
Hon Mr Harnick: Certainly we've indicated before that full cooperation will be given. This is an issue that has been in the hands of the assistant deputy minister responsible for criminal law since last Thursday. It is an issue that is being dealt with according to a protocol as is appropriate.
Mr Silipo: Yesterday my leader asked the Attorney General if, among other things, he would release a copy of the protocol that exists in the Ministry of the Attorney General. I want to ask the minister again whether he will release that information and whether he will also release to us that letter - because we understand that the correspondence between the ADM and the RCMP cannot be released unless, of course, the minister wants it to be released - so we can see ourselves what the nature of the request for the investigation contains. Will the minister agree to release those two pieces of information to the House?
Hon Mr Harnick: I have tried to explain to the member that this is a matter that is under the control completely of the assistant deputy minister for criminal law. It is not a matter that I am involved with; it is not a matter that I in any way have any connection to or direction over. It is appropriate to be in the hands of the assistant deputy minister for criminal law, as the protocol states, and that's what is being done.
Again I say to the Attorney General particularly that maybe he doesn't fully appreciate that what we have here is a serious apparent breach of the criminal laws of the country. This isn't a minor offence. The people who are under investigation include ministers in this government, include people in the Office of the Premier, and there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. We want to be sure that given particularly that it has taken five days for the Attorney General to discharge his responsibilities and that he did that only after our leader requested that he do that and made the request for an investigation directly to the RCMP - we want to make sure that he now carries on his responsibilities. Again I ask the minister, will he release the protocol and will he release the letter that went from his ministry to the RCMP?
Hon Mr Harnick: Again I will say to the member that this is not a matter that I have any connection to or direction of. It is fully and firmly within the jurisdiction of the assistant deputy minister, as is appropriate, and that is the proper way to deal with this issue.
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): My question is to the Minister of the Environment. Today the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario issued a report for 1997. It is clearly the most damning report on performance of an environment minister in the history of this province. The report is clear: You have failed miserably; you have let down the people of Ontario. Minister, you have not protected the health and environment of Ontarians.
The report shows that you have unenforceable guidelines for air quality and that they're regularly exceeded in places like Windsor, Toronto, Hamilton, Sault Ste Marie and London. By your own admission, 1,800 people a year die in Ontario due to bad air. The report today unveils that by the year 2015, with all the steps you have taken, the air quality in this province will be worse than it is today. That means another 18 years of 1,800 deaths a year as a result of your inaction.
The commissioner stated that air quality information is not being collected, that your ministry does not track industrial discharge into the waterways. Minister, you have failed. Today will you do the best thing for the province of Ontario and the environment and resign, and let someone else who will be able to do the job take over your ministry?
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): The Environmental Commissioner issued her report today. I intend to take it seriously and to look at her recommendations. I think it's most interesting that with regard to her previous recommendations some time ago, last year, we have been able to respond to I think 18 of her 25 recommendations.
Mr Agostino: Minister, I am sure you have been briefed on this. There is nothing in there that should give you any confidence in your ability to continue as Minister of Environment. It is clear you have failed the people of Ontario miserably.
Let me focus on Plastimet. We've asked for a public inquiry. Today the commissioner has joined that call. The commissioner has asked, as well as the opposition parties, for a public inquiry into Plastimet. She said that your inaction, as a result of not looking closely enough at the need for a certificate when you knew there was no market for plastic recycling in Ontario, may have caused that fire. She said that you have taken no action to address the fire marshal's recommendations that were addressed after the fire.
Minister, you have given us no explanation why you won't call a public inquiry. You have not given us an explanation why a certificate was not issued that could have prevented that fire. You have let the people of Hamilton down. Once again you have shown the incompetence of your ministry and your own performance, the commissioner stated today.
Hon Mr Sterling: As I indicated before, I guess, the question is to look at this particular report. I did have a look at the report with regard to the Plastimet fire situation, and very few of the allegations or statements made by the member opposite are included in the report.
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): My question is to the Minister of Environment. The Environmental Commissioner today issued a devastating report that said, "Environmental health continues to be a very low priority for the ministers of this province."
Last year you announced the beginning of the Drive Clean program after your Premier said publicly that that was one of the biggest failures of your government. Now we hear that it's going to be delayed for another year.
You yourself admitted that up to 1,800 people a year die as a result of smog. You are committing some of these people to a death sentence because you are not cleaning up your act, you're not getting this program started, and in fact you're relying on volunteers to clean up the air in general.
Hon Mr Sterling: As members know, we introduced the Drive Clean program, which we are working and negotiating with the private sector to provide at the present time. This program will be the most complex, the largest, most widely used program of any state or province in North America. It is a very, very thorough program where we will get reductions.
I do not apologize for that. It is a very expensive program. It is $70 million a year, which in effect is increasing the budget of the Ministry of Environment by that amount through an indirect method. I think it's a terrific program and the people of Ontario are right behind it.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): Minister, I want to return to the fact that the commissioner also raises again the Plastimet fire. For almost a year now everyone who has had anything at all to do with or cares about the Plastimet fire has said to you that you have a moral obligation to call a public inquiry. The commissioner has said that you have not answered adequately the questions that arose. You've stood in your place repeatedly and said, "I'll answer any questions," or "I think I've answered all the questions," or "The answers are there." Well, now we've got the Environmental Commissioner saying that you're not providing adequate answers.
It's not just the residents, it's not just the opposition parties, the firefighters involved, the people in the hospital close by. Twelve communities in addition to Hamilton-Wentworth city council and Hamilton city council have all said there needs to be a public inquiry; and now this.
Hon Mr Sterling: To the member from Hamilton, who asks about the Plastimet site, I think a little history is important here. During the period from 1990 to 1995, this site had some 20 fires. The member opposite was the Solicitor General at that time and he didn't call an inquiry into what was happening with regard to that site although he had the power at that particular time to do that.
The Speaker: I didn't hear the member say that. If that's your point of order, then I may ask the member to withdraw it if in fact he said that. Second, I'm not certain "coward" is out of order. If he wants to withdraw it, he can, but I certainly wouldn't rule "coward" out of order.
Auto insurance reforms introduced by the previous two governments resulted in spiralling costs to consumers and wreaked havoc on consumers' pocketbooks. Under the Liberals' Bill 68, the rate for car insurance began with an increase of almost 7% in just one year. Under the previous NDP government, under Bill 164, consumers saw an increase of some 21% over two years. Motorists were outraged, and rightfully so. This government had to clean up the mess that was created by the previous Liberal and NDP attempts at dealing with the issue of car insurance.
Minister, we appreciate your leadership and the consumers of this province appreciate your leadership on the issue of auto insurance reforms. I would ask the minister to explain to this House and to the people of this province how Bill 59 was able to stabilize insurance rates and what some of the other benefits are to the people of this province.
Hon Rob Sampson (Minister without Portfolio [Privatization]): To my colleague from York-Mackenzie, who I know has been following our reforms on auto insurance on behalf of his constituents very closely, he will now know, because he has been following it very closely, that the key premise of our reform was to put Ontario drivers back in the driver's seat as far as auto insurance is concerned. Indeed, they were frustrated and annoyed at year-over-year rate increases that were delivered by the plans of the two previous administrations across the House here.
We have tackled the problem by delivering a plan that we think is fair and reasonable. In fact, since its implementation, it has provided rate reductions of just under 10%, which is a tremendous feat given that most jurisdictions in North America are facing rate increases in this particular product year over year, even today as we speak. For retirees, there are even further discounts as they benefit from mandatory retiree discount reductions that we've put in place.
Clearly, to my colleague the member for York-Mackenzie, in fact the auto insurance plan is working. Rates are going down, and consumers have a chance to buy indeed only what they want to and have to buy.
Mr Klees: That indeed is great news for Ontario motorists, and I'm sure all members of the House will applaud you for that. I'd like to know, however, what you're doing to continue to manage this. Other governments have addressed the issue and then have left it, and rates continue to spiral. I'd like to know what other benefits are going to be flowing from Bill 59 and what you as minister are doing to continue to ensure that this issue is managed on behalf of the consumers of this province.
Hon Mr Sampson: The member for York-Mackenzie is correct: Good management of this particular issue involves the continued review of the plan to make sure it is keeping its commitment to Ontarians with regard to rate stability. We have instituted a two-year mandatory review plan, and we intend to do that. We intend to speak to the issues being raised by consumers and other stakeholders within the group, who have been working since the implementation of the particular bill to deliver to this government recommendations for reform that they think make sense, recommendations that would continue to add benefits to Ontario consumers, Ontario drivers.
Quite clearly, the 10% rate reduction I spoke to earlier is a lot of money in the hands of Ontario drivers. It's over half a billion dollars in the hands of Ontario drivers that we are giving back to Ontario drivers, that the previous two governments over there took out of their pockets. We plan to continue our aggressive efforts to provide Ontario drivers with a fair and reasonable auto insurance plan.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Fort William): My question is for the Minister of Education. Minister, we are now beginning to see the results of your government's takeover of education. What we are seeing is the beginning of a flood of pink slips. Today 272 educational assistants in the Halton Board of Education are receiving their layoff notices. This is 65% of the educational assistants in that board. These people are losing their jobs because your funding formula doesn't allow money for the services they provide to students. The students are losing the services because you don't seem to understand what these people do in the classroom. What difference do you think the loss of 272 educational assistants will make to the students of the Halton board?
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): I would say to the member from Thunder Bay that what we will see this year and over the next few years is more money going into the classrooms of Ontario, $583 million more going into the classrooms in Ontario, and less money going to consultants, less money going to administration; less money going out of the classroom, more money going into the classroom. Over the course of the next year and the next three years, we will see more teachers in the classroom; we will see more textbooks in the classroom; we will see more computers in the classroom for our students; we will see more resources going to libraries, to guidance, to paraprofessionals. We will see more money going where it counts: to the student, into the classroom.
Mrs McLeod: There is in fact $900 million in new cuts in the funding formula, and cuts mean layoffs and loss of services to today's students; 272 educational assistants in the Halton board today. In the Lakehead today, 125 educational assistants are receiving their layoff notices. That's the entire support staff for junior and senior kindergarten. It is going to happen in every board because you're providing only $5 per year per elementary school student for educational assistants and nothing for secondary school students. It's going to happen because your budget for special education is inadequate.
Minister, the people being laid off in Halton today are the people who provide the supports to special needs kids, the supports that keep those children in the classroom. They're the people who take those children to the bathroom. They're the people who walk those children to the school bus to make sure they get home at the end of the day. They're the people who literally hold the hands of the special needs children, who cannot work unless they're getting one-to-one support.
Hon David Johnson: The member from Thunder Bay has a different definition of "cut" than I have. This government has provided stable funding of over $13 billion in each of the next three years. It's a fact; it's an absolute fact.
The member talks about junior kindergarten. The member opposite knows full well that this government has given every board in the province the money to establish either a junior kindergarten program or another early childhood education program in keeping with the nature of that particular community - $100 million more money into the system over the next year for early childhood education or junior kindergarten at the choice of the community.
Along with the stable funding, we've provided transition funding to assist boards through the amalgamation period. We've instituted a textbook and resource fund. There will be more money spent this year in the classroom in Ontario than ever before in the history of the province.
Indeed you've made a splash in terms of convincing people that you are going to solve the problems that are faced all over the province. By adding together eight years of increases, by ignoring the fact that the numbers of people who are going to need those services are growing exponentially, by ignoring the fact that you've starved the system for three years, you now have made this announcement and you think it makes everything all better.
But what you've really done is announce that our health care is going to move from the publicly funded, publicly accountable system under the Canada Health Act that's offered in hospitals, particularly for chronic care patients - move them into the privatized area where they are not covered -
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Health): We have already come up with new design standards for the long-term-care facilities. Indeed there had been no new designs in the province for over 20 years, and unfortunately, people were still being accommodated, as they are today, in ward-like facilities. Also there is a lack of privacy when it comes to washroom facilities.
We have this past year, in consultation with consumers and with those who are in the health care field, in the facility long-term-care field, come up with new design standards. These new design standards already are going to improve the quality of life for people who are living in these long-term-care facilities.
It will mean that there will be no more than two residents in a room. It will mean that there are private washrooms. It will mean that there is wheelchair accessibility. It will mean that there is special facility accommodation for those with Alzheimer's. It certainly will mean -
Mrs Boyd: Madam Minister, the design standards were not set by you. I can see the member for Huron county. She knows that those design standards were used in the rebuild of her home for the aged. In Windsor, in London at Mount Hope, new design standards were already in place.
If all you can say to the transfer of people into a privatized system, a system that under your government is becoming more and more two-tiered, more and more a system where if you have money you get one level of care and if you don't have money you don't - sure, in the long-term-care system you've changed the standards. Indeed you have. People used to have the assurance that their loved ones were getting at least two hours of nursing care in those facilities. One of the first actions you did was to take that regulation away. Why? Because of flexibility, you say. Well, flexibility means driving down standards, and it's been shown again and again by study after study -
Hon Mrs Witmer: Speaking of standards, I would again remind them that new design standards have recently been set. I would just indicate to you that, as a result of the announcement today, we have taken a very significant step in this province in ensuring a better quality of life for individuals as well as appropriate levels of care. I'd just like to read from the release that has gone out today from the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario where they say they applaud the announcement:
"The additional funding will enable agencies to increase their complement of registered nurses and registered practical nurses to a level that better reflects the more acute needs of patients and residents. The nursing professional is encouraged by the government's recognition of need for such an investment in long-term care and is hopeful that this is a significant step in closing many of the gaps in access."
Mr Allan K. McLean (Simcoe East): My question today is for the Minister of Transportation. Minister, you've now completed the transfer of roads from the province to the municipalities. You've given them a one-time grant in order to maintain these roads.
While this part of the transfer has worked well, the naming of these highways is creating problems. I've had several contacts in my constituency office from confused residents and visitors travelling through Simcoe East. For example, Highway 93, running through Simcoe county, has been changed to County Road 31. Why could these familiar highways not have kept the same name as before the transfer? Why couldn't Highway 93 have been named County Road 93 for the area where it cuts through the county?
Hon Tony Clement (Minister of Transportation): I'd like to thank the honourable member for Simcoe East for the question. I'm pleased to hear that the honourable member agrees with the government that the transfer of the highways went well. Indeed, we attempted to work with every municipality affected by the transfers to make sure the transfers were as smooth as possible. Simcoe county alone received approximately $4.3 million for 63 kilometres of highway, including 93.
With regard to the numbering of transferred roads, I want to assure the honourable member that my ministry made every effort to ensure that the same number designation was retained after the transfer. We're aware that a number of local residents and the travelling public had become familiar with those names. We wanted to avoid confusion. Highway 93 is a very interesting case because the county received two sections of that road, 93 south of Highway 400 and 93 north of 12. In one case, they agreed to the same numbering system; in the other case, they changed it. Unfortunately, that's the operation of the municipality. They have that right.
Mr McLean: Obviously the opposition is not interested in how these roads were named. My constituents want to know who made the decision to change the name to County Road 31 from Highway 93. Highway 12 has been changed to a county road. Why could those not have been left the same? The road map has already got them in there. Who made the decision that these names are what they are?
Hon Mr Clement: When the highway transfers took place, the municipalities received the right to renumber their new roads. Ministry staff have been talking to all the municipalities, and I've been talking to a number of municipalities, to try to encourage them to, wherever possible, keep the same numbering system. In Simcoe county, the numbering designation for roads that were transferred was the same for Highway 169, Highway 50 and Highway 27. As I stated before though, the municipality had the legal right to rename the highway. I encouraged that county and that municipality to avoid confusion. In one case, they've already renamed provincial Highway 93 down to County Road 93; I think they should do that in the other case as well.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): I have a question for the Minister of Transportation. Mr Minister of Transportation, for the last two years I've been working with the local police and the local elected officials over trying to do something about high-collision intersections. In my own neighbourhood there were 10 people hit by red-light runners. Unfortunately, one person was killed.
As you know, cities like Toronto, Mississauga, Ottawa and Hamilton have come to the conclusion that they would like to try these red-light cameras to try and stop this epidemic. It's estimated that possibly 10,000 people a year run these red lights.
I can't understand why you won't at least let them try them, given that in Australia they reduced red-light running by about 72%. They reduced red-light running in Scottsdale, Arizona, by 62%. These local councils and concerned citizens are saying, "Why not give it a try, given the evidence?"
Hon Tony Clement (Minister of Transportation): I thank the honourable member for the question. I know that on our side of the House when we were in opposition we agreed with the Liberal opposition that photo-radar was not the answer. That's all part of the record. I think the important point, then as now, is that we want to identify the driver, put the sanctions on the driver. Indeed, this government supports front-line policing activities to combat this dangerous offence, because we know it is a dangerous offence that has to be remedied.
In the honourable member's city of Toronto, the police recently nabbed over 1,200 violators because they were there at the scene. They were able to issue demerit points, they were able to issue fines to the drivers. We support any policy that does that, that identifies the driver. My only reply to the honourable member from the Liberal caucus is that of all the range of options to tackle red-light running, why is he supporting the option that is the least effective to identify -
Mr Colle: In response, I support all the options like more police enforcement, and I think we all support those. But it's quite evident you would bankrupt most municipalities if you tried to babysit these intersections with police officers. You couldn't do it. The police in Toronto say they can't afford to do it. What they do say is, "Why not use technology that works everywhere in the world that helps police, that makes their job more effective and saves lives?"
Hon Mr Clement: I can only quote from Hansard of October 21, 1993: "You just pay your $75 or $100, whatever the fine is, and then you'll continue speeding, because there is no real sanction other than the payment of fines. That of course concerns me."
Hon Mr Clement: Speaking of listening, here's what the Police Association of Ontario had to say: "We believe that cameras on red lights is simply an attempt to raise revenues under the guise of public safety." A tax grab, Mr Speaker. We're not in favour of tax grabs. We're in favour of something that will be effective to get at that aggressive driver. That is our policy.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): My question is to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. Minister, as you're aware, Marilyn Churley, the MPP for Riverdale, and I have been persistent, to say the least, in pursuing democratic representation on behalf of the people of East York.
Yesterday I tabled a new private member's bill to give effect to the city of Toronto's request for a third councillor for the ward of East York. Minister, today I am asking you state in this House that you're going to live up to your commitment to respect the democratic wishes of the new city. Yesterday you said that the city had not asked you yet and I provided you with a copy of the official request from the city that was sent to you on April 21.
Minister, today please make the people of East York happy. Colin McLeod from Team East York is here. Tell him that you're going to respect their need for democratic representation. Tell all of us that you're finally going to make the legislative provision for that third councillor for East York.
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): I thank the member of the third party for the question. She's absolutely right. In this House in the last session the member asked for a third representative and I, at that time, said that should be the responsibility of the newly elected council of the city of Toronto. If the newly elected council felt in its wisdom that a third member was necessary, then it would have the right to do that. They have deliberated on that subject and have determined that, in their view, a third member is required. If they want to do that, I would certainly support their request as I committed to do previously.
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): I'd like to thank the minister for at last listening to the people of East York in restoring some form of democracy to East York after the disaster of the megacity. I'm very glad, and I'm sure Mr McLeod and Michael Prue and all of the citizens of East York are very happy today to hear you say that.
What I would like to ask you is when you are going to move on this. Are you going to support the member for Beaches-Woodbine's private member's bill? Are you going to introduce your own? This party, and I think I've heard it from the Liberal Party, is willing to help and facilitate and do everything we can to expedite this. Could you tell us today that you will introduce this or proceed with this immediately so that we can proceed and have the by-election by September, which is what the people of East York have asked for?
Hon Mr Leach: I thank the member for the question. The member for Beaches-Woodbine provided me a copy of the resolution from the city of Toronto today but I must tell them I have not officially received it from the city itself. As soon as we do that, we'll act -
I've stated repeatedly that the decisions on the makeup of council and the decisions on the makeup of community councils are the responsibility of the duly elected members of the city of Toronto council. I personally think it's a move in the wrong direction. Rather than going up, they should be going down, and I notice that the mayor the other day suggested that the size of council should be cut in half, which is probably a step in the right direction. However, that is their decision. They were elected to make those decisions, they have done that and we will honour that process.
Mrs Lillian Ross (Hamilton West): My question is to the minister responsible for children. Minister, on March 30 you came to Hamilton and you met with people at a round table discussion, members in our community concerned about children's issues. The focused discussion went around issues revolving around children and programs that actually work and how we can build on those programs to address issues responding to children's needs.
One of the things we hear time and time again is that the earlier we can help these children out the better their futures will be. I was pleased that while you were there we were able to make an announcement as well in funding for one of this government's important initiatives, which is the early intervention and prevention initiative on pre-school speech and language programs.
For the benefit of the opposition members, who don't seem to understand the importance of some of these reinvestments we're making, could you provide us with details on how this program will make a significant difference to people in Hamilton-Wentworth?
Hon Margaret Marland (Minister without Portfolio [children's issues]): I would like to thank the member for Hamilton West for the question. I also would like to thank you for being proactive in organizing the round table. Those discussions around this province were very helpful.
I agree this is an extremely important program and it will have a tremendous impact on children who have difficulty with their speech and language development. You only have to speak to the mothers and the parents of those children to know how much it means to them. Our reinvestment of $320,000 in preschool speech and language programs in Hamilton-Wentworth will benefit approximately 3,500 children in the region. If you think of 3,500 children who may otherwise have gone the first five years of their lives not being able to communicate, it's astounding. Our program will provide them with the professional help they need before they start school and they will then have the ability to communicate and the confidence they need to succeed at school and beyond.
Mrs Ross: As parents, we all understand that most parents want to give their children all the support they can to help their children grow and learn. Sometimes, though, parents need extra supports to teach their children how to communicate. How can parents access and use this program to their best advantage to help their children?
Hon Mrs Marland: Parents are often the first ones to see that their young child may need extra help to learn how to express themselves. Parents will have direct access to these programs, and I think that's one of the best features of the programs themselves. A parent who suspects their child may have difficulties communicating can get in touch with the program, making earlier intervention easier. Self-referral by the parents is a very important aspect.
Parent support and education will also be a large part of this program, so young children will know that mom and dad are there to help them learn, and families will be able to see and understand the progress their child is making. To the parents of the 75,000 children province-wide who will benefit from our $20-million reinvestment, this program will help them give their children the best start in life.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): My question is to the Minister of Health. As you know, we're facing a crisis in doctor recruitment and retention all across the province, your own community of Kitchener-Waterloo being a notable example. In northwestern Ontario, we're short at least 46 family doctors and 25 specialists, and are in fact losing physicians all across the region. Yet the beginnings of a real solution to this crisis may have been in place when there was a commitment last year of $36 million to our medically underserviced communities - a promise made, but now another promise broken, as not one penny of that money has been spent on recruiting and retaining doctors in our underserviced areas.
Minister, this past March 2 you met with Dr George Macey, of the Northwest Chamber of Commerce, and Dr Michael Sylvester, a Marathon physician, who brought you a plan they believe will solve the chronic doctor shortages in northern and rural communities, a plan that has been endorsed by the Ontario Medical Association executive, PAIRO, NOMA, FONOM. Minister, they are confused and frustrated because you have not responded to that and you have not funded this program at all. Can you please tell us why you won't let this carefully worked out plan go forward, why you won't support these locally made decisions?
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Health): Yes, certainly we are doing everything possible in order to ensure that the appropriate physicians can be allocated to the communities. As you know, there is the $36 million that has been set aside. I understand that there are ongoing discussions. The money is ready to be provided. We are presently in negotiations with some of the health care providers and we would hope that the money could soon be flowing there. The money is there, it's ready to go; we're simply waiting for people to take us up on the offer.
"We, the signed below, are against this outrageous increase. We are the small businesses of Metropolitan Toronto who have employees counting on us to keep our businesses open so they can feed their families and provide for shelter.
"You, Mr Harris, are forcing us to close our commercial stores, lay off our employees and ultimately sell our properties and making this wonderful Metropolitan Toronto a ghost town. Small businesses such as these have made Toronto grow to the size it is today and by this commercial tax increase we will have lost all that we have worked hard for all these years."
"Whereas the two recent reports commissioned by the Ministry of Health called for increased OHIP funding to improve patient access to chiropractic services on the grounds of safety, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness; and
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to recognize the contribution made by chiropractors to the good health of the people of Ontario, to recognize the taxpayer dollars saved by the use of low-cost preventive care such as that provided by chiropractors and to recognize that to restrict funding for chiropractic health care only serves to limit access to a needed health care service."
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): I have a petition that's signed by hundreds of individuals who live in the Sudbury region. It has been organized and given to me by Mrs Winney of Chelmsford, and I'd like to thank her. It reads as follows:
"To immediately pass Bill 27, An Act to amend the Children's Law Reform Act, which is intended to emphasize the importance of children's relationships with their grandparents by specifically mentioning grandparents."
"Whereas competent health care workers and students in various health care disciplines in Ontario have been denied training, employment, continued employment and advancement in their intended fields and suffered other forms of unjust discrimination because of the dictates of their consciences; and
"We, the undersigned, urge the government of Ontario to enact legislation explicitly recognizing the freedom of conscience of health care workers, prohibiting coercion of and unjust discrimination against health care workers because of their refusal to participate in matters contrary to the dictates of their consciences and establishing penalties for such coercion and unjust discrimination."
"Whereas Thunder Bay and district are suffering from serious deterioration in our health care system because of the closing of hospital beds before community services and long-term-care facilities are available;
"We, the undersigned, therefore petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to make it an urgent priority to provide more long-term-care services in the home and to provide a sufficient number of long-term-care institutional beds and staff in order to restore the standards of health care to an acceptable level."
"Provide for effective early intervention strategies by requiring boards to design and implement anti-bullying policies and by providing boards with the ability to direct psychological assessments of students that they believe are at risk;
"Whereas Thunder Bay and district are suffering from serious deterioration in our health care system because of the closing of hospital beds before community services and long-term-care facilities are available;
"We, the undersigned, therefore petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to make it an urgent priority to provide more long-term-care services in the home and to provide a sufficient number of long-term-care institutional beds and staff in order to restore the standards of health care to an acceptable level."
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have a petition forwarded to me by Mario Cordeiro, who is the working chair of the joint health and safety committee at Cuddy Food Products in London. The petition is signed by members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 175. The petition reads as follows:
"Further we, the undersigned, call upon the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to ensure that the workers' clinics and the Workers' Health and Safety Centre remain labour-driven organizations with full and equitable WCB funding and that the WCB provide adequate prevention funding to eliminate workplace illness and injury."
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): Mr Speaker, I will be presenting an amendment to the throne speech at the end of my remarks, but let me say that I am pleased to be able to take part in the debate at this time since there is much I have to say about the throne speech which was presented last Thursday in the Legislature.
I listened last Thursday to the throne speech. I wanted to hear that the government has a strategy, a strategy to address the hundreds of thousands of children in this province who are now living in poverty. I wanted to hear a strategy from the government that says that this government considers all those children living in poverty to be a priority for it. I didn't hear any strategy.
At a time when we desperately need a strategy to reinvest and re-establish our health care system, the government had a few words of rhetoric, a few dribs and drabs, but nothing approaching a strategy for reinvestment in our health care system.
At a time when community after community across this province is feeling that so much of what has made us strong, what has made us a good place to live is now at risk, the government only congratulates itself on producing much of the destruction.
What I heard is a government that is desperately trying to disguise its vision. Make no mistake about this: It's not a government without a vision but a government that is desperately trying to hide from the people of this province what its real vision is. Why? Because it is a vision that most people across Ontario would reject as soon as they got a clear picture of it. It is a vision that owes more to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher than to any Canadian except Preston Manning. It is a vision that is quite foreign to the values of Ontario people, the values of compassion, of cooperation, of community.
What's in this vision? Let me put it very frankly this way: If the Harris government gets its wish, the quality of health care, the quality of education and even our democratic rights will in the end be determined by the size of our bank accounts. That's where this is going. That's the road of this government and that's the road they want to go down in the future.
Make no mistake about it: Most people in this province would reject that road. People don't believe that access to health care should be measured by the size of your bank account. People don't believe that access to good quality public education should be determined by the size of your bank account. People don't believe that your opportunities in our society, in our province, in our community should be determined by the size of your bank account or your parents' bank account. But that is the direction this government is going in, though it desperately tries to disguise that direction at this point in time.
I want to be clear. Some political leaders in Ontario will tell you that this Conservative government is just going a little too fast and a little too far. I want to be understood clearly on this issue. This is not a matter of a little too fast, a little too far. This is a matter of going in the wrong direction.
Let me put it specifically this way: It is wrong to cut one of the best health care systems in the world in order to finance a tax scheme that's only going to benefit the wealthy, it is wrong to cut one of the better education systems in the world in order to finance a tax scheme that is only going to benefit the wealthy, and it is wrong to slash our community services to finance a tax scheme that is only going to benefit the wealthiest in this province.
It is not just a little too fast, a little too far. It is the wrong direction for the majority of people in this province, and when they see that more clearly they will reject it. People don't want to go down a road where your value as a human being, your worth as a human being is determined by how much money you have.
I want to focus on this government's tax scheme. I want to focus on it and spend some time looking at what it's doing. Why? Because in my view the majority of middle-income and modest-income families in this province end up paying more taxes than ever before through that tax scheme, only, through its course of deception, this government doesn't call them taxes; they call them tuition fees, copayment fees, administrative fees, user fees, higher property taxes. I want to examine this scheme, because in my view any benefit for middle- and modest-income families is more than cancelled out by those user fees, administrative fees, copayment fees, property taxes and cuts to health care and education - more than cancelled out.
I make this invitation. Speaker, you ought to try this. Take a sheet of paper and on one side of this sheet of paper draw a line down it. On one side of the sheet of paper write down "Harris tax scheme" and on the other side of the paper write down "New user fees, new copayment fees, new administrative fees, new property taxes, cuts to health care, cuts to education, new tuition fees," the whole gamut. Sit down and look at your paycheque or your pension cheque or, I suppose if you're one of the members on the Conservative bench, look at your investment cheque, your most recent notice from our friends on Bay Street. Sit down and take a look and see what you're getting from this tax scheme. When I invite people across the province to do this, many of them chuckle, they laugh: "I haven't seen this tax scheme. I have an income of $30,000 a year. I haven't seen this tax scheme. I haven't seen any benefit for me."
I ask people, sit down and look at your pension cheque, your paycheque or, in the case of government members, your investment cheque, and write down what you think you get every two weeks. Then on the other side, if you've got a daughter or son in university, you'd better write down $800 a year, because that's how much university tuition fees have gone up already and by next year they'll be $1,100. If you've got a son or daughter in community college, write down $400, because that's how much community college tuition fees have gone up. If they're going to be in community college next year, write down $500, because they're going up again. If you've got a daughter or son in high school, you might want to ask them about this thing, this new appearance in our high schools. It's called the student activity fee, and the average across Ontario now is $100 a year.
If you're a senior citizen, like my father, and you have to take prescription medicine in order to maintain your health, add on about $200 to $300 in prescription medicine copayment fees, copayment fees which are going up every month.
I know what it is for the majority of municipalities in my constituency. People are looking at $300 increases, $400 increases, $500 increases. But don't just ask for one year, ask for the three-year projection, because I know what the government strategy is. The government is going to take some of the money they got out of the teachers' pension fund a few weeks ago and they're going to splash some of it around to cover this up. But the money they've taken out of the teachers' pension fund will only last for a couple of years, and after that runs out, those property taxes are going to shoot up dramatically.
I invite people to do that. On one side of the page try to figure out that little bit you got out of the Harris government's tax scheme, and on the other side of the page add up the university tuition fees, the college tuition fees, the high school student activity fee, the prescription medicine copayment fee, property taxes, birth certificates - the price of a birth certificate doubled in the province under this government. Add them all up and then compare them. While you're doing it, ask yourself what it means. Can you can place a value on losing one of the best health care systems in the world? Can you place a value on watching what even the Premier describes, when he is outside the country, as one of the best education systems in the world - can you place a value on losing that?
For the majority of middle- and modest-income people in this province, when they actually tally what they get out of the tax scheme, I think, to use one of the Premier's most recent obsessions, one of his most recent fascinations, most people might find they get maybe a six-pack of beer every two weeks, and that's it, at the expense of one of the best health care systems, of one of the best education systems, and at the expense of communities that are now being riddled with reductions in services like public health, ambulance, services for senior citizens, housing for senior citizens, children's programs, recreation programs.
There was a great irony during the throne speech, a great irony watching this government introduce some of the Olympic athletes, because I'm sitting there, and I've got my sheet, and I know this government has essentially eliminated funding for recreation programs in every community across this province. When I talk to schools across this province and they tell me about this phoney in-classroom, out-of-classroom way of now determining education funding, they all say there is virtually no money left in the budget for athletic or recreation programs at the school level.
So a government tries to congratulate itself on the presence of some Olympic athletes here, but the reality is that this government has virtually wiped out the capacity of our communities to work with athletes like that in the future. What duplicity.
Mr Hampton: What hypocrisy to try to take advantage of those Olympic athletes when, if you just look at the surface of this, you'll see that recreation funding for communities across this province has been eliminated and schools are going to be hard-pressed to put together recreation and athletic programs for their students in the future.
There's more to this, though, than that comparison, because once an individual has an income of about $80,000 a year, the picture starts to change. You see, if an individual has an income of about $80,000 a year, suddenly the equation goes the other way and the tax scheme starts to overwhelm the new copayment fees, the new tuition fees, the new user fees, the new administrative fees and the property taxes. If an individual has an income of $100,000 -I notice now the Conservative members are starting to smile; I wonder why - if you get up over $100,000, $125,000 a year, $150,000, the tax scheme far overwhelms the new user fees and the new tuition fees. At $200,000 a year income for an individual it becomes very lucrative.
That's the reality of this tax scheme. The only people who benefit from this government's tax scheme are the wealthiest people in this province. The vast majority of middle- and modest-income families are paying more hidden taxes than ever before.
Mr Hampton: Yes, that's the irony of this. When the now Premier was in opposition, he referred to tuition fee increases, property tax increases, user fee increases, copayment fee increases and administrative fee increases as tax increases.
Let there be no mistake about it: These new user fees, prescription medicine copayment fees, the higher rents that senior citizens are going to be paying, all of the new regime of hidden taxes and hidden fees are a product of this government, and those hidden taxes and hidden fees are falling on the working people of this province, the modest-income people of this province, the middle-income people of this province. The only people who are benefiting are the wealthy friends of this government.
There is another part to this tax scheme that has to be examined. I understand that the tax scheme was a vote-getter. I understand the political element of it. Any time you say to somebody, "I can give you something for nothing," some people will vote for it. So part of it was a vote-getter. It was intended to be a vote-getter and it was. But there's an even more insidious part to this tax scheme, what I call the economic element of it. The political right knows, whether they call themselves the Reform Party, the Conservative Party, the Republican Party, the neo-Conservative Party or the neo-Liberal Party -
Mr Hampton: Yes, the federal Liberal Party. They know that if you buy into that tax scheme, if you institutionalize that tax scheme, then you essentially cripple public education and public health care in the future.
Why? Because that tax scheme right now takes $5 billion a year out of education and health care. It bleeds money out of health care and education. It bleeds $1 billion, or soon will, out of communities through downloading. That's what happens. The government takes the money and the provinces pick up the costs of the downloading. Where does the money that the provincial government gets out of downloading go? It goes into the tax scheme.
The problem is that tax scheme takes $5 billion now out of health care and education and out of communities. If you look down the road a few years, it's going to take $6 billion out because that's how much it will cost to finance that tax scheme. So you get to the year 2001-02 and you will have to find $6 billion a year out of health care and education and communities to finance that tax scheme.
The political right knows that if you institutionalize that tax scheme, if they are able to successfully institutionalize that tax scheme, then they will have been successful in undermining public education, public health care and the other public services that have been so important to the development of good communities in this province over the last 50 years.
In that sense you can call the Harris tax scheme the Ronald Reagan tax scheme or the Margaret Thatcher tax scheme. The Reagan tax scheme in the early 1980s decimated public education in that country and essentially created a two-tier education system. People who are well-off send their children to private schools or they create their own sort of wealthy communities where they isolate anybody who doesn't have a high income and it's reflected in the education system. The Reagan tax scheme decimated American cities.
When you go now to the United States too often you see American cities where the core of the city doesn't function any more. People there are poor, they can't get a decent education, they can't get health care.
Mr Hampton: They're trapped. They have a very difficult time getting jobs or being part of the economy. Then you go to another part of the community, a wealthier part of a suburb, and you see the different side of society.
Reagan understood when he implemented that tax scheme in the United States what it would to health care, what it would do to education and what it would do to communities: divide society into those who have money and those who don't. Thatcher understood the same thing in Great Britain. She understood that if she could institutionalize her tax scheme and she could institutionalize the selling off of many of those important public services, she would create two societies in Britain, and they have. One part of British society is wealthier than ever; another part of British society can't get the education their children need, they wait for the health care their children need and they live in communities that are more and more run down.
You could call it the Harris tax scheme, the Reagan tax scheme, the Thatcher tax scheme. It was not only a great vote-getter but is all about taking away the money you need to finance an adequate health care system, a good public education system and to finance the public services that make good communities. The right knows that if you can institutionalize that tax scheme, in the future in a province like Ontario we'll never be able to find quite enough money to adequately fund education, we'll never be able to find quite enough money to adequately fund public health care, and they know it will create the two-tier system. People who have money will more and more opt to private systems of acquiring health care and people who are dependent on the public system will find that the system is more and more underresourced, underfinanced and you have to wait to get the health care that you need.
Bill 160 is all about creating the framework for the privatization of education. You underfund it, because you take the money away through the tax scheme, and then through Bill 160 you underfund the classrooms, you underresource the classrooms in the schools. Some parents say: "I will not send my children to an underfunded, underresourced public school. I want to send my children to a private school. I want a voucher school. I want a charter school." This government is going to be right there egging that on and supporting it, creating a two-tier education system.
All I can say to you is that you understand it. You know where you want to go. For God's sake, be honest with the people of Ontario and tell them that that's where you want to go. Don't try to use your throne speech to cover it. Don't try to use your throne speech to finesse it. Be honest with people. Tell them that this is where you're going so that they know in the next election what it is they're voting for and what it is this holds in the future, and what it is they're voting against.
A few days ago I had an opportunity to engage in a bit of a debate on CFRB radio. It was supposed to be a leaders' debate. The Premier didn't show - he doesn't show for many of these - but the leader of the Liberal Party, Mr McGuinty, did show. We got into a discussion about health care and education. He said he wants to invest in health care and education. That's what he said. I said, "Well, if we want to invest in health care and education, we have to find the money." Right? Let's be clear with people. You can't invest in good health care unless you're willing to put some money into it and you can't invest in education unless you're willing to put some money into it.
I was asked by the broadcaster, "How would you find it, Mr Hampton?" I said very clearly: "Look, the only people who've benefited from this tax scheme are individuals who have incomes of $80,000 a year and up. Everybody else is paying more taxes: hidden taxes, hidden user fees." I said I believe higher-income people who have benefited from that tax scheme now have an obligation, a social responsibility to make a contribution towards health care, education and our communities. I would take back the tax scheme from the high-income people who have benefited from that tax scheme and I would put the money in health care, in education and in our communities.
Then the announcer said to Mr McGuinty, "Where would you do this? Would you ask high-income people to now reinvest in health care, education and our communities? Would you reverse the tax scheme for the highest-income people in Ontario?" I was struck, because it became apparent to me then and there that the Liberal Party in Ontario actually buys into that tax scheme, because the response was, "No, high-income people who have benefited from that tax scheme should not reinvest in health care and education." The response was that no, there would be no reversal of that tax scheme in so far as it affects high-income people.
I put it this way: Individuals who have incomes of $80,000 and above are in the top 6% of income earners in the province. They get 25% of the benefits from that tax scheme. So 6% of the people in the province get 25% of the benefit of the tax scheme, and I said that those are the people who ought now to reinvest. We ought to reverse the tax scheme. These people have a social responsibility to reinvest in health care, education and our communities.
The response from the Liberal leader was, "No" - wouldn't do it. The moderator of this discussion said, "Then where would you find the money?" The response from the Liberal Party went something like this: If there were a Liberal government, the Liberal government would wait for a surplus. In other words, a Liberal government would wait until the Harris government has hacked and slashed health, hacked and slashed education and continued to decimate our communities. Then in the year 2001 or 2002, if a surplus became available, there might be some reinvestment.
There's a problem with that theory and that strategy. We live in a market economy. The reality of market economies is that they boom and then they bust. We had a real bust in North America in the period about 1982 to 1984. The Davis Conservative government ran up very large and significant deficits then; the Liberal government in Ottawa ran up very large and significant deficits. The bust ended at about 1984 and then the economy boomed from 1985 until about 1989. Then there was another bust starting in the fall of 1989, continuing until the spring of 1993.
Now, since 1993, we've been in a boom again. From 1993 until now, about 1998, we've been in a boom. We're headed at some point over the next couple of years for a recession. If the strategy of the Liberal Party is, "We'll wait for a surplus and then we'll reinvest," and you hit a recession, then when does the reinvestment happen? It doesn't happen.
I want to say to our colleagues over here in government, be honest about what you stand for. I'm saying to the Liberal Party that you should be very clear in telling people that the only way you'll reinvest in health care and education is if a surplus happens to come. You should tell them that you buy into this tax scheme. You should tell them that, because you do.
The reality of that debate is that a Liberal government would buy into this tax scheme. A Liberal government would buy in, would institutionalize that tax scheme, would institutionalize the cuts to health care, to education and to communities. I wouldn't. That's why, despite the fact that I didn't hear much in this throne speech that I thought was very inspiring, the throne speech does serve a useful purpose: It helps us to sharpen the debate about what the real choices are for the future of this province.
In my view, you can go down the right-wing road, the right-wing vision very quickly with the current government or you can go there slowly with the Liberal government, which buys into the same tax scheme, buys into the same cuts to health care, to education and to community in order to finance that tax scheme; or people can choose a different direction. I want to spend some time talking about the different direction.
I recognize that whether you're in the United States after Ronald Reagan, or whether you're in Great Britain with Margaret Thatcher, or whether you're with the Harris government, or the Klein government in Alberta, or more and more the Chrétien government in Ottawa, people will more and more be measured by the size of their bank accounts. If people have large bank accounts, they will be able to access health care when and where they need it. But if people don't have sizeable bank accounts, people more and more will be forced to wait for adequate health care.
As we're seeing, particularly at the university and college level now, by the year 2000 the federal government, the Chrétien government in Ottawa will have cut $3 billion from post-secondary education. As a result of those cuts and further cuts added on by this government, it is already the case now in Ontario that if you have money, you can get access to university and college, but if you don't have money, you either end up with enormous debt or you don't go. That is the real situation facing young people in this province today. That happens to young people because we now have a government here in Ontario, and I argue a government in Ottawa, that believes that people should be measured by the size of the wallet, the size of the bank account. That is what's happening.
The political right knows that that's where this is going; that's where they want to go. Just be open and honest and tell people that. I would say to my Liberal colleagues, be open and honest that you buy into this to a large extent, that you would end up in the same place, you'd just go there a little slower. In only a matter of months, people across this province will have to make a decision about who will govern this province.
I say again that you can take a fast ride down the right-hand road with the Harris government or you can take a slower ride with a Liberal government. We want to go in a different direction. As I said, we believe that the only people who benefit from that tax scheme are the wealthiest people in this province. Everyone else - working families, modest-income families, middle-income families - is paying more. The poorest people in this province have taken a huge cut in income, a 22% cut in their income, a cut in income that is having a devastating effect on children in this province. Why? Because half of the people in this province who rely upon social assistance are children. When this government goes around the province and pats itself on the back for cutting the income of the poorest people in the province by 22%, what they're patting themselves on the back over is cutting the income of 500,000 children in this province.
How do we reinvest in health care? I want to talk about some of the options of that today. I want to talk about some of the options of reinvesting in health care because we need to. It's very clear that much of the so-called investment that the Harris government would put into health care would in fact serve the purpose of further privatizing our health care. That's what's happening in home care. The Harris government has chosen an American model for the delivery of home care. It is turning home care services over to private, for-profit and largely American health care corporations.
In that process, the emphasis on care recedes, the emphasis on making the profit out of health increases. This direction, this move to private, for-profit delivery of home care - and let's be clear, home care is where much of the action's going to be in health care in the future. Home care is going to be where the action is because we know about the technological changes. We know, for example, that 15 years ago if someone tore a knee ligament they'd have to go into a hospital, they'd have to have fairly serious surgery on their knee and there would be a recovery period in hospital of at least five or six days. Now knee surgery involves using an instrument called an arthroscope. It is done on an outpatient basis, usually not even in the hospital; sometimes in a physician's office. You go in in the morning, you receive a local anaesthetic, the arthroscopic surgery is done, they wait around to see that there are no immediate adverse reactions, you go home usually with a prescription for home care, a prescription for anti-inflammatory medicine and a prescription for painkillers. A nurse will come in and check on you every day to continue to ensure that there are no adverse reactions to the surgery or to the medication.
Because of technological changes, home care is where a lot of the action is going to be. We know, for example, that a lot of chemotherapy can now be administered on an outpatient basis. Someone comes into the clinic, they receive the chemotherapy treatment, later on that day they go home with a prescription for home care, a prescription perhaps for some other medicines. A nurse comes in every day to ensure that the patient is not suffering adversely from the chemotherapy treatment or is not suffering any other adverse reactions.
We know that in our health care system home care is where a lot of the action is going to be. Because of our aging population, we know that home care is where a lot of the action is going to be. What is the model this government has chosen for home care? It has chosen the Americanized, privatized model of home care, the American system where you have a hodgepodge of companies that are driven not by the desire to provide care but by the desire to make a profit out of health.
I want to contribute the experience in Manitoba. The Conservative government in Manitoba was going down the same road with respect to home care. They turned it over, essentially, to private, for-profit corporations, many of them American corporations. However, people in Manitoba put up such fierce opposition that the Manitoba government - a Conservative government there too - had to bow to that pressure and agree that they would conduct an evaluation of the home care system in that province after a year and a half down the privatization road. They brought in some outside evaluators, outside consultants, to look at the home care system and what was happening to it as it moved in that American direction. Do you know what they found? They found three things.
First, the quality and the quantity of care that patients were receiving was going down. More and more of those American corporations were actually setting time quotas for nurses and homemakers: "You're only allowed so much time to do this, so much time to do that." Patients were complaining, "I can't get adequate home care."
What was the second thing that was happening? Trained nurses and homemakers were leaving the system. Why? First of all, they were leaving because they didn't want to be part of a system that they did not see as having any integrity any more. They did not want to whistle into someone's home, do this for five minutes, that for three minutes, something else for two minutes and go out the door knowing the patient they left behind felt they were not receiving the care they needed. So trained nurses and trained homemakers started leaving the system in Manitoba, because they didn't want to participate in something that didn't have integrity to it.
They were also leaving for another reason. Why were they leaving? Because those American health care corporations put in place a persistent and consistent strategy to screw down the wages and the benefits of those very people who worked in the system. That's where you get the profit: You limit the care that the patient receives and you screw down the wages and the benefits and the working conditions of the nurses and the homemakers in the system. That's where you get the profit.
What's the third thing they found in their evaluation? The third thing they found was that those American health care corporations that were taking over home care were indeed making very lucrative profits.
Here's the scenario: The patients lose, the dedicated health care workers lose, but the corporation that's in it for money, not to provide care, benefits. In the face of that independent evaluation - and the Minister of Health ought to hear this - the Conservative government in Manitoba said: "That's it. We're not proceeding down the road of privatizing home care. We're not proceeding down the road of privatizing Manitoba's health care system through the back door." I say to the Minister of Health, you would be wise to make the same choice in Ontario.
Mr Hampton: Call your colleague in Winnipeg and ask for the results of that study. Ask them what they found was happening to patients, what was happening to nurses and the trained health care workers and how those companies were screwing their profit out of the system, out of health care. I'm not interested in that vision for health care in Ontario. I'm not interested in bringing a hodgepodge of American companies to Ontario that are more interested in profit than they are in health care.
People across this province ought to reflect on what is the American health care system. In the United States, 42 million Americans have no health coverage at all. By the latest estimates there are 80 million Americans who have something they call health insurance, until they take the time to read the exception clauses, the exclusion clauses and the limitation clauses. When they do that, when those 80 million who think they have health insurance read the exclusion, the exception and the limitation clauses, they find that that private health insurance isn't worth very much. It doesn't provide either a lot of health care or the adequate health care they will need when they face very serious situations.
Is that what we want here in Ontario? Do we want to have a health care system where more and more people aren't covered and more and more people think they have coverage but find it's not adequate? I don't think so.
There is something else people need to know about that hodgepodge of private for-profit companies in the United States. Americans actually spend more on health care than we do here. Americans actually spend 13 cents out of every dollar on health care, measured as part of their GNP; out of every dollar in the economy, 13 cents goes to health care. In Ontario it's about nine cents.
Why has the Harris government chosen a direction for home care that's going to mean less care, is going to mean more and more trained health care workers leaving the system, but as we know from the American experience, is going to cost us more money? That's the choice they've made. All you need to do is look at the facts from across the border in the United States to see what is happening. You get less health care and it costs you more money. That's the direction the Harris government has picked for home care, which is where most of the action is going to be in health care in Ontario for the next 15 to 20 years. Home care is going to be critical and they've picked the American model.
I want to be very clear on where I stand on home care. Home care is needed. It is necessary - absolutely essential. I recognize that the world is changing. I recognize that many of our institutions have to change, and health care has to change. My colleagues here, the member for Beaches-Woodbine and my former colleague from Etobicoke-Lakeshore, did much of the work on charting a course whereby our health care institutions would change. But we were very clear on something. We were very clear that what you needed to do before you closed hospitals and before you started taking services out of hospitals was to build up those home care services and those community care services.
This government hasn't done that. Not only have they made the wrong choice in terms of taking the American model for home care; what this government did was they closed hospitals and cut hospital services without building up the services in the community, without building up the home care, without building up the community care services.
That's why we have gridlock in Ontario today. People get pushed out of hospital sicker. They go home. They're told they can get home care. They get home and find they can't get home care or it's very limited. They get more and more sick and wind up back in hospital, but there aren't enough acute care beds. You can't get into an acute care bed, so you get put in the emergency room and you spend your time, sometimes a couple of days, in the emergency room or in the hallway outside the emergency room in the gridlock that the Harris government has created in our health care system. They have taken one of the best health care systems in the world and are now starting to decimate it. To the extent that they are introducing anything new to it, all they're introducing is a very inefficient, Americanized model of home care, not the direction we want to go in at all.
What are some of the things we ought to do? Let me use diabetes as an example of the kinds of choices we need to make. By the way, for the government I was part of, this is a choice we made. You can choose to get involved early. You can choose to invest in providing people with some tools to maintain and sustain their own health. That's what I call public health or intervention at the front end: wellness promotion, illness prevention.
You can choose to do that, or you can choose to not do that and then let people get sicker and deal with them after they're sick. This government has chosen that latter route. This government is not going to fund public health any more. This government is not going to fund many of those early interventions. They are in fact going to take public health and throw it down on municipalities: municipalities that don't have the money, municipalities that don't have the geographic scope, and municipalities that frankly don't have the expertise to provide that kind of early intervention.
If you intervene early in terms of diabetes, if you provide people with some tools to maintain and sustain their own health, the vast majority of people - and there are literally tens of thousands of sufferers of diabetes across this province. I know because I have a great number in my own constituency, in my own community. There are tens of thousands of diabetes sufferers across this province. If you invest at the front end and you provide people with some tools to maintain and sustain their own health, the vast majority of people can lead a normal life and can deal with their diabetes.
What are those tools? There are about five or six rules. One is you've got to maintain a regular diet; you've got to be thoughtful about your diet. Two, you have to get regular exercise, about 45 minutes a day of bicycling or walking or jogging. Three, you should abstain from alcohol. Four, you need to watch your blood sugar level. Five, I'm told you can't go out and howl at the moon at night; you have to get regular rest.
What happens if you don't invest at the front end? What happens if you do as this government is doing, if you don't invest in public health, if you throw public health on municipalities and say: "You fund it. You fund it even though there's no money. You look after it even though you don't have the geographic scope. You look after it even though you don't have the expertise and experience"?
What happens if people suffer from diabetes and you don't provide them with some tools to maintain and sustain their own health? The evidence is everywhere. If people are not given help to deal with diabetes as a disease, kidney dialysis follows; kidney dialysis is expensive. Kidney transplants follow; they're expensive. Limb amputation follows; that's expensive. It's expensive in terms of suffering to people and it's expensive for the health care system. Blindness follows, and finally a very high incidence of heart disease and heart attacks.
Anyone looking at this would say, "Gee, the most intelligent thing we could do in the health care system would be to make investments in the front end, provide people with some tools and some strategies to maintain and sustain their own health." Don't deny those strategies. Don't deny those tools. It's absolutely important that we help people sustain their health. If you don't make those investments, it costs you a lot of money in terms of human suffering and in terms of health care costs and social costs down the road.
What's the choice this government has made? This government has made the choice not to invest in the front end but to cost the system a lot more down the road. Wrong choice. What choice would I make? Public health has to be a priority. Public health has to be one of the most important priorities, and investing in maintaining people's health has to be the biggest priority.
That's where we part company with this government. That's one of the first places we part company. As I emphasize again, we would in no way entertain the American model of privatized home care. Wrong choice.
Where else could we make a huge difference? I notice that the government is sort of thinking about alternative payment strategies for physicians. The government is sort of thinking about moving off fee for service in a couple of locations.
If I could urge the government to do anything, it would be to aggressively work with communities and physicians who want to move away from fee for service and who want to move to a salary scale or who want to move to a community health delivery system.
There are too many communities across this province that can't get adequate physicians and can't get adequate coverage from other health care workers through the fee-for-service model. Those communities are lined up at the door of the Ministry of Health to look at other models of delivering and paying for health care.
I can say very clearly to all the people across Ontario, and I say it especially to the Minister of Health, who's here: Move aggressively on this front. The fee-for-service system, especially when you're talking about primary care, has all kinds of inadequacies in it.
I have spoken to a number of physicians who say: "I don't like my income as a physician depending upon how many people I can push through the door every day. I would much rather have a system where I have time to address the real issues with the patients who come to see me. I would much rather have a system where I actually have the time to sit down with those patients and work with them in terms of a strategy to maintain and sustain their own health."
I think it's absolutely essential for Ontario's health care system that we start to move away from fee for service in terms of primary care and that we build some options and some choices into the system. It's especially critical for all those communities that right now can't get access to health care, access to the health care workers and physicians we need.
I want to talk just a bit about education. I said earlier that Bill 160 is all about preparing the education system for the movement to two tiers, the movement in the American direction: more and more people sending their children to private schools, voucher schools, charter schools, all the same general description of private and two-tier education.
I was fortunate enough to have the deputy minister's employment contract show up in my office one morning. It says right in the deputy minister's employment contract that her job over the next year is to extract another $700 million from our elementary and secondary schools. That's the real agenda.
I know that if you take another $700 million out of our elementary and secondary schools, on top of the $800 million that this government has already taken, you will have to close schools, you will have to in effect start cutting programs, you will have to lay off teachers, lay off school secretaries, lay off custodians, all those things.
I know that when you start to do that, some parents will be driven to send their children to private schools or to start demanding a voucher school or a charter school. It's already happening. In fact, the funding formula in the first year for education is set in such a way that it is going to drive school boards to close schools. What schools are going to be closed? It will be the smaller schools. It will be the smaller schools in small communities.
Why? Because in the funding formula there is not enough money to provide a custodian in every one of those schools. There's not enough money to provide a school secretary. There's not enough money to provide a principal. There's not enough money to cover the cost of electricity to put on the lights. There's not enough money to cover the cost of heat. There's not enough money to ensure that the roof doesn't leak. That's the direction that the funding formula has set, and so boards of education are already looking at closing schools.
The new Toronto district board is looking at closing 120 schools. The new Niagara Peninsula board is looking at having to close 35 schools. I was in Sudbury a few weeks ago. The Sudbury boards have already identified two schools that are going to close and are looking at least four or five more. Thunder Bay has already identified two schools that are going to close and are already looking at four or five more. Ottawa, I'm told at least 20 schools.
By our account, in talking to the different boards across the province, there are at least 200 schools slated for closure over the next year and a half. That means 2,000 classrooms. Did you ever hear that statement, "No cuts to classrooms"? Did you ever hear that statement that there will be more classroom funding? If you're going to wipe out 2,000 classrooms, I guess that means you then can jiggle the money around so that it looks like you're spending a little bit more in the classrooms you've got left.
But what's really insidious about this is that if you close a community school in a village of 4,000 or 5,000 people, right away what happens is parents call and say: "Look, I do not want to send my children on a bus 20 kilometres to another school. If we can't have a public school in my community, then we're going to organize for a private school." That's exactly the agenda the government wants. This government is going to be right there saying: "Yes. Here's some money for a voucher school. Here's some money for a charter school." That's what this is all about.
That's why I say Bill 160 is all about setting the table, setting the framework for that move to a two-tier American education system, and it will only take about three or four years before you see the outcome. People who have higher incomes will be able to say, and will say, "I'm not sending my children to an underresourced, underfunded public school. I'm going to send my children to a private school, a charter school, a voucher school," and the Harris government will be there to say, "Here is the money to do it, here is public money to create a two-tier education system, where people who have money can get a superior level of education for your children and people who don't have money can send their children to underfunded, underresourced public schools." That's where this is going. The direction could not be more wrong for Ontario. The direction could not be more wrong, given the knowledge economy that we are now in and that we are moving into more than ever, but that's the direction this government has picked.
What direction would I pick? I've already said it is absolutely wrong to take money out of education, to take money out of our schools to finance a tax scheme that's only going to benefit the wealthiest people in this province. New Democrats would put the money back in. In fact we would set this rule: Any money that is found in education, whether through amalgamation, whether through management changes, whether through administrative changes, any money that is found in education must be reinvested in education.
Where would we make the reinvestment? The first reinvestment that needs to be made is an investment in early childhood education. I know some of the Conservative members over here talk about early childhood education, child care, junior kindergarten and senior kindergarten as glorified baby-sitting. I've heard them say this all the time. They should open a book and read some of the studies that have been conducted here in Canada, some of the studies that have been conducted in the United States and some of the studies that have been conducted in western European countries. All of those studies, no matter where they've been conducted, show essentially the same thing: that for every dollar you invest in early childhood education, you save up to $7 later on in the system.
Why is that? The studies show this: Because children start to develop at an early age their capacity to learn, their basic learning ability, if you make an investment there, their capacity to learn grows. Because children develop their copping skills, their ability to deal with stress, their ability to deal with difficult situations at a very young age, if you make an investment in children at that young age, they develop very good coping skills. Because children develop their social skills at a very young age, if you make an investment at that young age, they develop the social skills that are very much part of learning and social interaction, very much part of being a capable, productive adult.
I understand that the government wants Fraser Mustard to do a study. I could say to you he's already done the studies. The studies are all there. He will tell you that if you invest in early childhood education, it actually has a dramatic impact on how the brain of young children eventually becomes wired. It has a dramatic impact not only on the intellectual development of children but on the social development of children, their capacity to deal with a dynamic and changing world. He'll show you his studies and he'll show you studies from around the world and I just urge you to read them. You don't need to ask him to duplicate the studies he's already done. His studies are all there. His studies will show you, as I said, that for every dollar you spend in early childhood education you save $7 down the road.
Where do you save? You save money in not needing as much special education. You save money in children not dropping out of school either as early or as often. You save money in terms of young people not getting involved with the criminal justice system - the police, the courts and correctional institutions. You save money in terms of young people, when they eventually emerge from the school system, having a much higher rate of employability and you save money in terms of young people not having to rely on our social supports and social assistance system. For every dollar you invest in early childhood education you save $7 down the road.
If someone could show you an investment where you invest a dollar today and 10 years from now, 12 years from now you get $7 back, I'd say that's a good investment. I'd say that's a very good investment. That's a much better investment than people are getting from their banks right now. So I'd urge the government and I would say to people, invest in early childhood education. The dividends that pay off down the road are incredible.
Where else do we need to invest? One of the horror stories of this government is that they're cutting adult education. In a world where most people will change vocations three or four or five times because of the demands of that knowledge economy, this government is going to cut adult education. At a time when more and more people during their lifetime will have to go back to school and they will have to broaden their skills, deepen their skills or get new skills, this government is shutting the door on them, a government that brags that it wants more people working and then takes away one of the principal ways that people can get back into the workforce, by cutting adult education. How cynical; how hypocritical to lecture people across Ontario and then to cut the principal way that many people have of getting back into the workforce.
I've visited many of these adult education centres; I've visited many of these adult education high schools. I was to the adult education centre in Sarnia - wonderful place. It's going to close, I should say to the member. You may put it off for a year or so; it's going to close. I was at one in Welland a couple of weeks ago. It's closing. I watched the decision that was forced on the new Toronto District Board of Education, where they're going to have to close the lion's share of their adult education system, put 8,000 students on the street, 8,000 students who want to learn, and lay off 600 teachers; an absurd scenario. At a time when more and more people need to return to school, not once, not twice, but perhaps several times during their life to broaden their skills, deepen their skills or get new skills, this government is going to take that away.
It is absolutely essential in the knowledge economy that adult education not just be restored, but that it be enhanced. Lifelong learning is part and parcel of the knowledge society, part and parcel of the knowledge economy. A government that takes away adult education in the context of that society and that economy is doing everyone in that society a disservice, doing a disservice to those students but doing a disservice to society as a whole.
What would New Democrats do? We would reinvest in adult education. It's one of the best investments we can make. You cannot put people back into the workforce unless you're willing to invest in their training.
I know the ideological line the government wants to paint. The ideological line is, "Well, these people can go to workfare." Workfare doesn't provide the training you need in this knowledge economy. Workfare doesn't provide any of the other supports you need. Workfare doesn't provide the opportunity to get that practical job experience that is part of this building. What workfare does - and let's recognize this because it's happening wherever your vision of workfare is being tried across this province. What's happening is this: People are being put into a series of deadend activities that have no future, that do not lead to a permanent job, that do not lead to better skills, broader skills, deeper skills. It's a never-ending series of deadend activities. Your workfare is about punishing people who are unemployed. Your workfare is about persecuting people who are unemployed. Your workfare is about taking dignity away from people who are unemployed. It's not about equipping them with skills, it's not about equipping them with practical job experience, it's not about linking them to the new economy; it's about punishing people who are unemployed.
That's why adult education is so important, because adult education provides one of the real options for people who are out of work, who are unemployed and want to get back into the economy, want to get a job that pays, a job that has a future to it. You're taking that away from them.
Where's the third place we need to reinvest? In education. If I seem to be spending a lot of time on education, it is because in a knowledge economy the most essential ingredient is knowledgeable, thoughtful, skilful, capable people. But knowledgeable, thoughtful, skilful, capable people don't grow on trees, and they don't hatch under rocks.
Mr Hampton: Yes, unlike Tories. You have to invest in them; you have to invest in their education. If we want people to be capable, if we want people to be positioned to take part in that knowledge economy, we have to invest in them. What's this government doing? It's de-investing in education, de-investing in universities, de-investing in colleges, de-investing in high schools and elementary schools, de-investing in early childhood education. That is what this government is doing. So we need to spend more time analysing what's at stake here.
The government says it has a new apprenticeship program. What it is is that first of all it's a watering down of apprentice opportunities. It's the de-skilling of apprenticeships and it's also the privatization of apprenticeships. It is, in effect, going to make it more expensive for young people and all people in this province to get into an apprenticeship program, and what comes out of it is going to be a lower level of skill.
At a time when the knowledge economy demands more skill, more ability, more experience, more judgement, this government is deinvesting in apprenticeships as well. Wrong direction, wrong choice, absolutely the wrong choice in the context that we're in. If we're going to be part of that knowledge economy, we have to make more thoughtful investments in apprenticeships, and we would. That has to happen and a New Democratic government would do it because it's essential for the future of our province.
I want to spend some of the time that is remaining to talk about the environment, because if there is someplace else this government has deinvested in, it is in the environment that eventually all of us depend on.
I am not someone who worships the NAFTA agreement. Conservatives worship the NAFTA agreement. Liberals worship the NAFTA agreement; I know that. In fact, Liberals would like to extend the NAFTA agreement to basically become a hemisphere agreement. It doesn't matter to Liberals that there are no protections for labour standards, no protections for human rights, no protections of the environment. None of those things matter.
But something that did emerge from NAFTA was a study that was done of environmental protection across the various provincial and state jurisdictions of Canada and the United States. Do you know what that study showed, a very recent study, released, I believe, about a month and a half ago? That study showed that Ontario now ranks last in terms of environmental protection. Ontario now ranks last.
We can see this everywhere. This is a government that says: "We'll cut the scientists, the inspectors, the people who do the monitoring. We'll lay them off." You have 750 scientists, monitors, inspectors and technicians who have gone from the Ministry of Environment; 750 people who were directly involved in environmental protection in Ontario are gone. Then it says: "We'll turn it over to the private sector. Corporations can monitor and police themselves." That's what you did in the Ministry of the Environment.
Then you went to the Ministry of Natural Resources, the other body, the other institution in this province that tries to provide a measure of environmental protection and you laid off most of the foresters, the forest technicians, the wildlife biologists, the fisheries biologists and the other scientists who built up a very good bank of knowledge on environmental protection, particularly with respect to the natural environment. You said corporations can police themselves, monitor themselves.
What's happening out there in terms of corporations monitoring themselves? I can tell you what's happening. Yes, there are some companies that have a vision that goes 15 or 20 years down the road, and they say: "Yes, we want to be environmentally responsible. We don't want to have the name of our corporation on the front page of any newspaper identifying us as being a corporate polluter or someone not respectful of the environment." Some companies do that. But other companies look at it and say: "Hey, there's a chance here to make a quick buck. There's a chance here to save money on environmental protection. There's an opportunity here not to invest in the technologies that will ensure that we have clean air, will ensure that the stuff we put out our sewer pipe is clean. There's a chance to make a quick buck." That's what's happening out there. That's what's happening.
If you go into northern Ontario, you will see forest companies that observe the rules. You'll see other forest companies that simply breach the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, and what does the government say? This government helps them. This government tries to pass regulations that not only permit that but promote it. Then you have companies which not only breach the Crown Forest Sustainability Act but simply wave their hand at the Environmental Assessment Act. They ignore the Environmental Assessment Act in terms of the location of logging roads and logging activity. What does this government say? It helps them.
Then you have issues like Plastimet in Hamilton, where you had an environmental disaster that was covered not just in Ontario but across Canada, across North America and elsewhere in the world. People who live in Hamilton who experienced that want an inquiry to determine what happened, why it happened, who's responsible and how you avoid it in the future. And what's the response of this government and the Ministry of Environment? "No public inquiry. We're not interested in why it happened. We're not interested in how it happened. We're not interested in ensuring that it doesn't happen again. We're not interested in finding out who's responsible." That's the record. I think we know why they don't want the public inquiry: because the public inquiry would very likely show that a principal ingredient in allowing Plastimet to happen is this government, the Harris Conservative government.
I want to be very clear with people from all across the province. What happened in Hamilton at the Plastimet disaster could happen in any community in this province now, any community, because the people who used to be there protecting the environment, the people who used to be there holding mining companies and forest companies and steel companies and chemical companies accountable aren't there any more. The scientists aren't there. The inspectors aren't there. The monitors aren't there. The enforcement people aren't there any more. What happened in Hamilton could happen in any community in this province now, and the level of destruction, the disaster that could result, could be far worse than what happened at Plastimet.
Mr Hampton: Drive Clean. They were going to do auto emissions testing, and they announced it and they reannounced it. Then they had to admit just a few weeks ago that it's not going to get off the ground.
What people may not know is that the reason it's not going to get off the ground is because the Ministry of Environment in Ontario now no longer has the expertise to put the program together. The knowledgeable, thoughtful, trained people who care about environmental protection are no longer in the Ministry of Environment to put that program together. They're gone; they're out the door. They were laid off. They were told that in Mike Harris's Ontario, in the Conservative vision of Ontario, they're not important any more.
Wrong decision. Wrong direction. Absolutely the wrong direction. Why? We're going to find out very, very shortly in a number of areas, in a number of aspects of this province, how shortsighted this is.
Pulp and paper companies and lumber companies in northern Ontario within the next five years are going to encounter a situation where their pulp or their paper or their lumber will no longer be welcome in some of the jurisdictions across this world. Those jurisdictions will say: "We are not interested in buying pulp or paper or lumber from a province which is systematically degrading its own environment. We're not interested in buying lumber or pulp and paper from a jurisdiction that is de-investing in environmental protection."
When that happens, we won't be talking about 100 jobs here or 100 jobs there; we'll be talking about tens of thousands of jobs and we'll be talking about the very existence of communities. We're only about four or five years away from that. We're only that far away from another Plastimet disaster in virtually any other community in this province, because there is no one there doing the work.
It is absolutely essential that this province reinvest in environmental protection. Study after study, from here and from elsewhere, across North America and western Europe, shows that if you don't invest in environmental protection, if you don't put some emphasis on environmental protection, it has, in the medium and longer term, huge impacts on health, huge impacts on the productivity of your population and huge impacts on your economy.
The Industrial Disease Standards Panel - something else that this government has done away with - did world-class work in terms of identifying those compounds, whether they be chemical compounds or those kinds of industrial processes that resulted in serious diseases like cancer and emphysema. It was able to establish the kinds of pathological and epidemiological studies which show the relationship between the use of certain chemicals and the incidence of cancer and other very serious diseases. What has this government done? It has destroyed the panel, killed it, said: "This doesn't matter. This isn't important any more." It shows very clearly the linkages between environmental protection and people's health, and in the longer term we will see the connection between environmental protection and the productivity of our society and the productivity of our economy, that this government doesn't care.
I want to be very clear with people: A New Democrat government would reinvest in environmental protection. We would reinvest in something which is the foundation of a healthy population, a productive population and a productive economy. We recognize that in doing that reinvestment, you don't destroy jobs, you create jobs. Some of the best jobs that are being created in other jurisdictions are jobs that come out of investments in environmental technology. Firms in Sweden and Finland now market their products in the pulp and paper industry around the world because they are able to put forward products that are among the most sustainable in terms of environmental protection, that have the least disruption of our natural environment, that consume the least amount of energy and that produce a product that can be certified around the world as being environmentally responsible and environmentally sustainable.
That's how you create real jobs. That's how you create jobs that pay good wages, that have a future. But that requires investment, and investment, unfortunately, is something that this government only understands very narrowly. They understand investing in the wealthiest people in this province through a tax scheme, but they don't understand investing in young people through a good education system. They don't understand investing in our college and university students through a college and university system that is well funded.
I mentioned the NAFTA report on environment. I could also point out that in funding of colleges and universities now Ontario ranks last in Canada - last after Newfoundland, last after Prince Edward Island, last after Saskatchewan, last after Quebec. Ontario ranks last in the investments that we're making in the very young people who are going to be the future of our economy and the future of our communities. A very narrow vision of investment: no vision of investment in health care, no vision of investment in the health and the productivity of our population as a whole and no vision of investment in the environment.
I can't close without mentioning the Environmental Commissioner's report of today. That report condemned the government more than ever, condemned the government for being shortsighted, condemned the government for having a very narrow vision, condemned the government for creating across Ontario an atmosphere where more and more the quality of the environment will not be respected and will in fact be degraded. The report frankly condemned the government not just for neglect but condemned the government for being the active force behind much of this, condemned the government for being the active force which promotes degradation of the environment, which promotes the loss in environmental protection.
I want to say very clearly, not just to the Conservative members of the Legislature and the one or two Liberal members who are here from time to time, to all the people across Ontario that a New Democrat government would reinvest in the environment, and we wouldn't wait until the year 2003 and the year 2004 and hope for a surplus as the Liberal Party would. We recognize that only the wealthiest people in this province are benefiting at all from the tax scheme of the Harris government. Those people must now make a reinvestment in health care, in education, in our communities, in environmental protection for the betterment of the whole province. We make that commitment. We would reverse that phoney tax scheme. We would insist that those people who have benefited from that tax scheme now reinvest in the things that matter most to our communities.
I have to close, but before I do, I want to present my amendment to the throne speech. I want to read it for you and then I will present it. I stand seconded by Mr Wildman, the member for Algoma in presenting this motion.
This House regrets that the Harris government has implemented a phoney income tax scheme which, unless it is reversed by the next government of Ontario, will entrench permanently the cuts which are causing hardship for our youngest, our oldest, our sickest and our least fortunate in society.
This House regrets that the Harris government has implemented a phoney income tax scheme which, unless it is reversed by the next government of Ontario, will entrench permanently the cuts which are causing hardship for our youngest, our oldest, our sickest and our least fortunate in society.
Mr Dave Boushy (Sarnia): It's a true pleasure for me to speak on the recent speech from the throne. I don't remember ever hearing a throne speech of any government that so clearly indicated the concerns of Ontario, and my riding's population has been heard and is being acted on. The day after the throne speech signalled our government's intent to continue with our pro-growth, pro-jobs policies to ensure Ontario's success continues to grow into the 21st century, the reaction was swift.
Be ready to invest: That's the message that was sent to at least 25 major industrial leaders that I know of when the throne speech announced that the Ontario government would consider a bill to amend the construction-related labour legislation. Amendments to the labour legislation, combined with coming legislation that will open up the electricity industry to competition, are making Ontario and our community look terrific in the eyes of investors.
For example, in Sarnia a cogeneration plant is on the horizon which would employ 300 people. As a result, we'll enjoy the increased and sustained prosperity that comes with increased employment and good-paying jobs.
Locally, our skilled construction workers, tradesmen and petrochemical industries stand to benefit by our government's looking at amended labour legislation, particularly as it affects the construction industry. After listening to and working with our local workers, industries and construction associations for about two years in order to promote these legislative measures, I couldn't be happier to see it becoming a reality.
This legislation will without a doubt attract investment and create opportunities in our community. In speaking with various industry officials, I feel I can say with full confidence that we can expect some major new developments in our area, thanks to the coming legislation.
I want to give you a few examples. In my riding of Sarnia, Imperial Oil is seriously considering an expansion worth between $150 million and $200 million, and this bill would help make a solid case for this investment. The immediate impact would be the employment of about 300 construction workers.
Bayer executives tell me a project worth more than $100 million that would employ 200 construction workers over 18 months is on the horizon, but they need this kind of legislation to cement the project.
Again in my riding, Dow Chemical recently announced a $100-million project that would employ 350 construction workers in 1999 and create 59 permanent jobs. However, with the anticipated labour legislation in place, local Dow executives would have the ammunition they need to convince their head office that building much larger units in Ontario is favourably competitive in North America to such places as Houston, Texas.
Again I would like to refer you to my riding. Nova corporation has a series of projects they are studying which amount to about $400 million. If we pass this legislation early, that would give us much-needed leverage in making Ontario their best choice.
These initial signs of interest and commitment are only the beginning. By moving to encourage more flexibility in the labour relations system as it applies to the construction industry, we are opening up my community's potential and Ontario's potential as well. The throne speech told my constituents that our government has heard their desires and concerns. Indeed, as our community is strengthened, all of Ontario will benefit.
The importance of our community and its petrochemical industry cannot be overstated. Let me say that Sarnia is Canada's third most active port, and accounts for roughly 8% of the nation's combined imports and exports. Ontario's petrochemical firms represent 62% of employment in the petrochemical industry of Canada, 59% of shipments and 48% of exports. Most of this activity is concentrated in my riding and around the Sarnia complex.
The advantages we have in attracting further development and investment are enormous. We have a highly skilled, educated workforce of true professionals. We have a strategic location in the heart of the rich North American market with easy access to half of the population of Canada and the US within one day of trucking. We are closer to the major petrochemical markets than our American competition on the US gulf coast. Major pipelines and a strong inter-relation between petrochemicals and refinery units give our local industry flexibility in production.
Yet despite all these factors, even while major investments in the petrochemical sector were taking place elsewhere in North America, few were finding their way to Ontario. Because economies of scale are so important to maintain competitiveness on the global market, there needs to be constant growth in the industry. The stumbling block has been the higher cost of constructing new facilities in Ontario than in our competing jurisdictions of Alberta and Houston.
How did all this happen? Before 1978 about a dozen large general contractors signed special agreements with the construction trade unions. These working agreements meant these contractors would subcontract only to unionized employers. The contractors signed these working agreements with the understanding that they were temporary and would expire at the end of their respective projects. However, in 1978 with the introduction of a province-wide bargaining scheme, these working agreements were set in stone.
It's interesting to note that general contractors did not employ members of the trade directly - they subcontracted to unionized employees - yet they are still limited to unionized trades people. The result is that these contractors, because their construction costs are high, are unable to compete with contractors who are not under similar obligations like, for example, the American contractors. Ontario has been missing out on major projects that would stimulate economic growth in my riding and Ontario.
It was time for us to address this problem. Over the past 18 months we have been listening and consulting with union representatives in the construction industry, contractors and the heads of major industries to find a mutually acceptable solution. All parties have raised the concept of project agreements as a tool to attract investment and create new jobs.
Under this type of agreement, the labour costs of selected major industrial projects would be renegotiated on a one-time basis to make them more competitive with neighbouring jurisdictions. As far as I know, none has been successfully negotiated this way. Because it has to be unanimous, as required, hundreds of local construction workers lost the opportunity of employment and our community lost out on the permanent spinoff effects of new development.
Let me say that our government has listened to all parties during the last two years, has seen investments go to Alberta where Ralph Klein has become actively involved after setting a goal to attract $11.5 billion of investment by 1999. His decision to end Alberta's machinery and equipment tax played a major role in Nova Corp expanding there.
I want to thank the many cabinet ministers who met with interested groups and individuals in Ontario and from my riding, and in particular, I want to thank the previous labour minister and the current minister for all their attention to my riding's local needs.
I want to go back to the amendment to the framework of the labour legislation. The sooner we consider this legislation the sooner we can bring in new investment which will boost both the local and provincial economy. I want to warn you that major investments and expansions in our petrochemical sector will not only create construction jobs but also that permanent employment in the industries will result and further jobs will follow in a spinoff effect.
Once new plants and expansions are commissioned, permanent benefits to our community in Ontario and others in the province will be created through the need for ongoing purchases of materials and equipment. This is good news not only for my riding but also for all our ridings. As the viability of the Sarnia complex is solidified, it will maintain and enhance its role as the petrochemical centre of Canada, further adding benefit to the provincial economy.
It's very interesting listening to the member for Sarnia. I congratulate him on what's happening in Sarnia. If what he's saying about how the government has listened to all these various people and how they've been able to come to this new conclusion and these new arrangements in Sarnia is really happening there, so much the better.
I only wish the government had listened as much to the other people of Ontario, because it's interesting that the throne speech itself deals to a large extent with mea culpas from Mike Harris in which he's saying, "We'll now start to listen to the people of Ontario." There are an awful lot of people out there in an awful lot of different sectors who feel that they haven't been listened to over the last three years.
Let's talk about the people on welfare. Have they been listened to? No. They've been cut by 22%. Let's talk about the people who suffer from disabilities. Have they been listened to? No. We still don't have a new act to look at and to contemplate in this House. Let's talk about the OPSEU workers. Were they listened to? No. They had to go on strike. Let's talk about the teachers and the teachers' strike last year. Were they listened to? No. They had to go on strike. You can just go on. The nurses are another group that wasn't listened to at all.
I think if there's one sense the people of Ontario have it's that this government hasn't been listening to the people of Ontario. So if there is something happening in Sarnia that's good for the local economy there, I applaud that. If the government is listening there, I would just ask the member to ask the Premier and the other members of cabinet to start listening to the other people of Ontario as well so that the concerns people have about their health care, about the quality of their education, about the quality of life in their communities will be addressed.
Mr Wildman: I want to congratulate the member for Sarnia on his intervention. I recognize that he is dealing with a particular problem that relates to a border community like Sarnia and that he has consulted with contractors and labour in the community to try and determine a solution for individual contracts to stimulate employment in his community.
I'm a little concerned, though, that in focusing on this one particular issue, which is very important to his community, he has not also dealt with the other effects of the government's program and agenda on the people of Sarnia and the people of the province.
I wonder whether that member, knowing him as I do, really does support the view that pregnant mothers who find themselves on social assistance should not receive the $37 supplement to enable them to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables that will enable them during their pregnancy to ensure that they are healthy, that the foetus is healthy and that the baby will have a good head start. I wonder if he supports the view expressed by his leader that the reason this $37 should be cut was because these women might irresponsibly spend the money on beer. I wonder if he respects that kind of comment from the Premier of the province and whether he believes that in any way enhances his office, or does it demean all of us as citizens of Ontario?
I note that his colleague from Wellington has a resolution that is going to be debated tomorrow that talks about a head start for babies and for young children. It would seem to me that we need the same kind of head start for foetuses.
Mr Marcel Beaubien (Lambton): It certainly is a pleasure for me to rise in the House today to comment on the speech of my colleague from Sarnia with regard to the economy and the petrochemical industry in the Sarnia area.
First of all, let me assure you that I am also very concerned with what is happening in the area. I have been a member of the Sarnia Lambton Council for Economic Renewal for the past six years. The Sarnia area has experienced a very high unemployment rate for the past six or seven years. We have also lost 6,000 highly paid jobs in the past eight years due to restructuring, downsizing and plant closure. That is the reality of what is happening in the Sarnia-Lambton area.
Consequently, in the past number of years I have personally met with leaders from the union sector, leaders from the corporate sector, in order to arrive at a solution to the problem that we are experiencing. There is no doubt that no one group, no one corporation, should have a monopoly when it comes to the construction industry. Basically, what we are trying to achieve in the Sarnia area is to have the corporations, the construction industry and the unions all work together in order to provide proper employment, meaningful employment, to the people in the Sarnia-Lambton area.
I am sure that whether you're a pipefitter, electrician or teacher, you are entitled to make a decent wage, a decent living. However, what has happened in the past six years in the Sarnia area, because of the existing union contracts, is that people have not had the opportunity to make a decent living. My only interest is to make sure the people - my constituents and Mr Boushy's constituents - do have an opportunity to provide a bright future not only for themselves but for their kids.
Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): Of course we're moved by the honourable member for Sarnia's statement and plea for understanding about his area, but we are dealing with the Mike Harris government, and the lack of listening to local concerns is a signature of this government. There's absolutely no way in which either Mr Boushy or the member for Lambton can expect to hear from this government in terms of really understanding some of those localized concerns. We need go no further than Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital, which has been stripped down to a bare facility by the lack of a real rural health policy on the part of this government. It's a shame.
It's a shame that perhaps some of the good intentions of some of the other people in this House haven't been followed through, that the actual restructuring commission - sort of like a dog off a leash - set by this government has gone around the province and used the same formulas on large and small communities, the same formulas on each and every one. That's why it's coming back to us now about clogged emergency wards, about communities upset about doctors finding it difficult to stay in communities, because this government can't make that local adjustment, can't understand that there are differences in communities that have to be respected and have to be appreciated.
I sympathize very greatly with the member for Sarnia, because it certainly is manifest that this government isn't able to do those kinds of adjustments, to make those kinds of nuances in any of their policies. We understand too that while what he deplores that what's happening in the construction industry probably isn't good to have happening there, that's exactly the example Mike Harris sets in terms of hospitals and school boards, that bigger is better. Somehow we have a government - strangely, for a Conservative government - running like the Soviet Politburo, having unelected commissions out there, assembling larger and larger blocs of government, having large school boards, large municipalities and large hospitals. Of course, in those kinds of outlooks the local community does miss out, does lose out.
I just want to say that in our area, as well as in Ontario, we have seen the petrochemical industry suffer. We have seen jobs go, for example, to Houston, Texas, and we have seen them go to Alberta because of the high construction costs in our area as well as in Ontario.
In wrapping up my comments, I'd just like to say that this has been going on for many, many years and, as a result, the unemployment rate in our area had gone up to something like 20% at one time when we first got elected. Now it's a little better, and we're trying to improve the situation by encouraging more jobs, opportunity and growth in Ontario. This is just the step in the right direction.
I know that the biggest support I have in regard to this amendment comes from the Liberal Party. To the members from my area, I hope your party will be able to support the amendment. Otherwise, if you do not support this amendment, I'm going to go back and tell them you voted against it.
Mr Kennedy: It is a great pleasure to be able to follow our leader, Dalton McGuinty, in responding to the throne speech from the government. It is a very important time to take note of where this government stands.
There is the government's effort that came last week to try and put some kind of face on what their government is. We all know and have anticipated for weeks now - there have been leaks from the party apparatus that runs the government, talking about trying to be nicer to women and to seniors, for example. The communication strategy went out to all government departments and said: "You should follow this. You should make sure that whatever you do, you say things that are kind and acceptable to women and seniors." Then, of course, the Premier himself got involved in a dispute with the Dionne sisters and probably put paid to that particular strategy.
But we understand that this government is anxious for people to understand them as real people, as part of this province, and to understand perhaps the character of this particular government. There is no question now that not only the stumbling around with the words and the names shows that that wasn't a true effort, that what we heard last week was not really the government that occupies the seats opposite today or that has been making those point-and-shoot-from-Toronto decisions over the last three years. Instead, what we're trying to cover up with fine words like "courage" - that really doesn't do the job. It doesn't cover up the essential characteristics of this government, which are, yes, a certain narrowness of outlook, a certain lack of understanding and appreciation, but also a level of incompetence that I think is starting to hang over this government like some badly looked after municipal garbage dump.
We really have a comic book revolution taking place in this province, one where the plans haven't been worked out. We can apply that to almost any area. This week it would be hard for anyone in the province to keep up with the levels of objective opinion that are now being directed at this government and its lack of accomplishment in important areas like child protection. My colleague Sandra Pupatello stood here today with a pile of reports that have been ignored by this government, that can't be acted on by a government that doesn't want to take up a pretty essential basic responsibility of those who would purport to govern Ontario, to mind the wellbeing of those who can't look after themselves. Instead we have had cuts and ignoring the advice of people like the children's advocate who have really put all of us, as elected officials, on the spot to try and make sure that our systems are in place there to protect people. Yet for month after month we have only had obsfuscation and delay, so there, for the people of Ontario, in that lack of action is revealed some of the essential character of this government.
It doesn't take in fact the courage that this government tried to parade in front of us as they gave us a look at some of the better elements of Ontario, some of the Olympians and the Special Olympians and the people who do make this province a truly great province. I understand rather well why Mike Harris would aspire to represent some of that character of this province. The difficulty Mike Harris has is that he doesn't get it. He doesn't appreciate that there are aspects of this province that need to be reflected in any government, and those aspects include a level of tolerance, a level of compassion and a level of ability to get the job done that don't seem to exist in this particular government.
When we look at what Mike Harris has brought us over the last two and a half years, we all understand what it means for the average person out there: a higher, not lower, level of anxiety; less certainty, more insecurity about where their jobs might be coming from; whether, as the throne speech tried to propose, there will be good jobs for all. Will there actually be jobs that will meet the new economy? There can't be in the sense there is no deliberate effort on the part of this government - except some touching belief in a voodoo, in a tax cut taking place that's going to generate jobs.
We know that whatever jobs have been developed have come out of our macroeconomy, and what should be focused on by this government, if they want to show us some of those qualities that most Ontarians uphold and want to see reflected in their government, is, for example, taking charge of the training programs, signing those agreements with the federal government and getting down to the job of making sure that Ontarians are prepared. Instead we sit last, not only last in Canada but last out of 42 US jurisdictions, for spending in our universities. That's not preparing people to take on the jobs of the future. That's not making sure that there are good jobs for all.
We know also that when this government talks about high-quality services, they don't mean the same high-quality services that the people in Ontario and indeed the people of Canada have become used to; that instead there is some form of Harris discount being applied to services and it means cheaper is always going to be better, bigger is going to be better and the more of our public services we can make available to private companies the better off we'll be. That's the signature of this government. And you know what? The unfortunate thing about those insights is that the government won't even pause to see if the job is getting done well.
One of the things that happened last year when this government deregulated some industries is they didn't pause long enough. They claimed they were saving money by making elevating devices a self-inspected and self-regulated industry and dealing with amusement devices on the same basis. What did we learn, though, by looking a little closer than this government was prepared to? The government gave away $9 million in fees, gave away a profit centre for what the government was doing simply because in the Comic Book Revolution there are lots of objectives, lots of questions but no real answers. That's what we're finding today in the whole range, the whole panoply of things that have been attempted by this government.
We can talk about workfare, and people need to understand that the people who are on welfare want to be doing something, but this government simply can't deliver. If you scratch the surface and look at what's actually happening around the province, you find dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people in actual workfare opportunities. Instead, what people are occupied doing with this government, because of its laziness, its inability to really focus on the problem, they have decided to take the old programs that were happening before, where people looked for work and may have been given help with a résumé and they have claimed those as their own.
There's a real not just intellectual but fundamental laziness on the part of a government that can't do what even regressive governments in the States at least have had the gumption to do, which is to take the savings they have made off the backs of children, off the plates that people have had to eat from in terms of the food that's missing and used that to help people go back to work. It's not happening in Ontario in 1998 and it hasn't happened for the past couple of years.
That's why when we see words like "courage" in the throne speech, we know it took no courage on the part of this government for the initiatives it has put in place, that it has taken on, with courage and tenacity, the weakest people in this province and given them a whopping, no doubt, is the feeling on the opposite benches, that they have been able to take on the children who sit on welfare, through no fault of their own, the families who have lost jobs or come from broken marriages or have encountered a disability or a sickness. Even as we speak, this month this proud government would review the cases of all the people on disability and start kicking them off, the way they already have many of the people who just draw down drug benefits. That's the character of the Mike Harris government, which fine words simply can't hide.
We look at the essential message that this government can't get away from. In the throne speech we heard on the one hand that this is a government that might now deign to listen. Now that it has done the things it considers important, it might actually listen to the people of this province. The people of the province know where to put that particular message because they know what it's worth. They understand that the government couldn't later on in its speech stay away from bashing people on welfare, from talking about people on welfare as not wanting to work, a fundamental mistruth used by this government and reused by members in this House to put a certain group of people in this province in disrespect and disrepute. The members of this government should stand up and account for that, account for picking on a group of people who happen to find themselves in one of the most vulnerable states in their lives. But unfortunately that's not a characteristic of this government.
Had there been a Mike Harris who could match the character of this province, he would have said a number of things. He would have said, "I'm sorry." He would have said: "I've made mistakes with your health care. I've bobbled it, I've botched it, I've put people in the hallways and I'm going to fix it." But that's not what Mike Harris said. There's nowhere that it's more apparent that the essential message of Mike Harris is principally about self-interest.
What Mike Harris doesn't get is that even the people who most depend upon themselves, who have the largest measure of independence, appreciate that their ability to get along in Ontario depends on how their neighbours are doing, on how their community is doing. The essential Mike Harris message couched in that throne speech is: "You just worry about yourself. We'll give you a tax cut, we'll give you somebody to blame and you don't worry about what happens in terms of those people who are deprived of their education because we deregulated tuition, those people who don't fit in because they happen to get sick while we're taking money out of hospitals, those people who now would go to junior kindergarten but can't because we've decided that an early start for young children isn't important enough."
In the area of health care, that competition for self-interest is never more apparent than it is today. We have from this government an offer today of a discount in the standards of health care in this province. You'll be tempted with that. This government will say: "It's cheaper to be able to provide health care on the sly here. We take it out of the Public Hospitals Act, out of the Canada Health Act. No longer will you be protected. We will put the beds we used to provide for the sickest, most vulnerable people in this province, the people in chronic care" - 3,506 vulnerable people will now head for long-term-care facilities which don't have those protections and it will happen in virtually every community across this province. Will any member of the government stand up and speak for those people who can't speak for themselves, who are going to be given the Harris discount in terms of health care? We'll find out by the end of this debate.
The rest of us are being told implicitly that we don't need to be concerned, we don't need to worry, there'll be beds eight years from now. At the time when we get older there might be some beds there, but when we think about our parents and grandparents, we aren't going to have the same standards for them. We're being asked to narrow our vision to look after just ourselves and our families. "Don't let those other needs in. Step over those homeless people, take an American-style view of things, and at the end of the day, when it comes to health care, buy your own care, go to self-insurance, go to the kind of thing that some of the people opposite are nodding their heads at." It's the kind of thing the Fraser Institute and this Reform-Tory, Progressive Conservative Party believes in, which is giving us such a low value in terms of the care we receive in our hospitals and our doctors' offices that we'll be forced through the back door to end up in the same position as our neighbours to the south: with some people who can really afford it with the best care imaginable, and the rest of us with care that we can barely scrape by with.
We know that in this country people live longer, they participate more fully in society, they're able to contribute more back, they get well sooner because we've got a public health care system, because we recognize an essential fact that eludes Mike Harris and the members of this government: that the character of Ontario is built partly upon a decision made a long time ago that when you get sick, when you're most vulnerable, when you're least likely to be able to earn the income you need for good health care, we're going to make sure it's there for you. It isn't going to depend on your wellbeing or your inheritance or the people you know or the things you can do for yourself to be able to get that care. Unfortunately, in the throne speech and in subsequent days and in the announcement made today, Mike Harris has refused to stand up and defend that principle.
We look at what was contained in the announcement today and we learn that there's a bias built in for for-profit care. We're not just going to lose the chronic care hospitals that are being closed - fine facilities like Runnymede, which provides absolutely excellent care, in what is admittedly an older building, but excellent care to 100 patients, one of whom is Gladys, who I mentioned today - but those patients are going to be forced to move if this government has its way. But this government will not go to a blended approach that would allow those patients to spend their last days in the place they've learned to call home. Instead, we have a government blundering its way through this health care restructuring and telling us that things will be fine.
We have an announcement today where figures have been piled and piled to make a big number, and what does it add up to? Less increased spending than has happened under any government, except for this one, in the last 10 years in terms of health care - $150 million perhaps, possibly, maybe, each year so that eight years from now we might have the number of beds we need to meet the waiting lists that exist today. That's Mike Harris's planning and caring for people. Again, that's with a reminder that almost 4,000 of those beds are discount beds for people who are getting good care in chronic care facilities today.
It hardly becomes this government. It's what we've come to expect from them. We've come to expect a certain amount of overdependence on public relations and communications. But when it comes to remembering the people who put them here, the people who voted for them, the people out there who, despite having not voted for them, expect to be represented in the decisions of this government, there's that glaring omission. The patients aren't covered off; they're conveniently left out of the picture.
Earlier today, the Minister of Health for this government, when challenged, requested, asked to provide some level of guarantee to those patients, wouldn't do so, because this government doesn't intend to provide that level of quality of care to those mainly older but also in some cases younger people with traumatic injuries or degenerative diseases who aren't going to be cured but who deserve the respect and the support of the helpful services they're getting today.
This government compounded its efforts to discount health care in this province a few weeks ago when it sat in private session with the doctors of this province. All across this province the people of Ontario are going to walk into doctors' offices and receive surprises as they find out that Mike Harris has traded off $170 million worth of doctors' services, health services that used to be provided, and has now made them inaccessible and services they have to pay for out of their own pockets.
What's one of those services? Visits to long-term-care facilities. Doctors are restricted in the number of times they can be reimbursed for visiting people in those same facilities which now this government says that over a period of time they want to expand and make a principal delivery system for health care.
Those are the kinds of things the public of Ontario has to take into account when they evaluate this throne speech, when they evaluate this government and this Premier's efforts to try and be seen in a different light.
Is this really Mike Harris's last-minute conversion to community care? Does he really believe what people have talked about for years, that there can be better care provided in the community? If he did, he would have funded it by now.
What is the track record of the Mike Harris government when it comes to community care? In 1996-97 this government got up and with great fanfare and to the raucous applause of the back bench said, "We're going to put $170 million into community care," more money than has actually been announced today on an annual basis. What actually happened? What did Mike Harris actually do? Mike Harris didn't put a dime, in the whole entire year, into community care. In fact, at the end of the year the public accounts of the province of Ontario show that $5 million less than had been spent the year before was actually spent by this government.
What we've seen even in this last year, the second year of trying to fulfil that last promise, which was actually an initiative of the previous government to try and catch up some of the needs in this province - we still understand that at least $30 million has not been spent, even though in places like Hamilton and Ottawa and the Niagara region, people have been turned away and cut off home care. We've actually had 78-year-old spouses told that they should be providing more than the 22 hours of care they're providing, and lose the two-hour respite care they have, for their 77-year-old wife. That's the kind of approach that really tells us the true character of the Mike Harris government: that inability, that unwillingness to really take full responsibility for the people of this province, to not actually factor them in when they're making decisions.
We know that what's being played out in Ontario today has a pretty simple root. It's rooted in this appeal to self-interest, putting money in your pocket ahead of all things, ahead of what you might like for your children in terms of school or for other people's children, which is usually how the appeal is made. In terms of what's happening in health care, there's usually an effort to blame somebody; to blame doctors, to blame nurses, to blame the people who go to emergency, even if they're lying on a cot.
Even in emergency, if you remember the first response that came from this government when we raised it last February - not the most recent February, but a year ago, in 1997. We talked about Ed Whitehill in Peterborough. We asked this government to stand accountable for this 82-year-old man who went to the hospital for the first time in 40 years and whose family was not allowed to stay with him and whose daughter found him with 23 other people in the emergency room hallway and had to express, in a way that everyone in the hallway heard, "How long has my father been lying here dead?" Ed Whitehill died in Peterborough in February 1997 because this government would not acknowledge an emergency room crisis.
Subsequently, when this government was called upon to account, the former health minister quite typically tried to blame this on the staff, in fact went publicly on the record in a committee and said that the people of Peterborough, the nurses and the doctors, had done this as a public relations stunt, to the everlasting shame of this government. That stain has not gone away.
A year later, when the emergency crisis was too big to be ignored, when Mike Harris himself finally had to go to an emergency ward and was put upon by the doctors and by the head of the hospital, where they pinned him against the wall after they gave him his X-ray and said, "You've got to understand there's a problem here," only then did we even get a glimmer of recognition.
We came out with a four-point plan and we said to this government, "Fix this." It wouldn't. Instead this government keeps ignoring the problems, keeps ignoring the people of Ontario and keeps showing us what can't be hidden in the throne speech: It's real character is that of a one-term, miserly government.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): I'm happy to have an opportunity to comment on the speech by the member for York South. He points out many of the flaws. As a fellow health critic, obviously we're very focused on the whole issue of health care, particularly with the efforts we've seen today of this government to try to paper over the very serious cracks they have caused to appear in our health care system.
The member talked about some of the mythology around the self-congratulations of this government. He mentioned some of the ways in which this government has tried to give an impression that in fact cannot be shown to have the effect they claim, when you look at what is happening to people within real communities.
He talked about some of the underspending that has happened. What he didn't mention, and what I worry about a great deal, is some of the elements that were greatly ballyhooed as helping to take away from some of the way in which this government pandered to physicians at the same time as they were releasing 15,000 nurses from service.
One of the major ones was a funding mechanism to help underserviced areas to attract a sufficient number of doctors to provide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week primary care to their citizens, $36.4 million that was part of that agreement, part of the agreement signed with the OMA, the agreement that allowed doctors to charge over their cap without being clawed back. What did the government do to help those underserviced communities, which happen not just in the north? They didn't spend the money. They put it back into the pot. We'll see whether they get it out the door this year or whether people continue to be underserviced across the province.
Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel): My comments are to the member for York South. His entire speech is quite negative with respect to the operation of our government. I suppose he feels that obligation as a member of the opposition, and his obligation is to criticize and to perhaps put forward an alternative. I didn't hear too many alternatives as to how he proposes to solve some of the problems that our province has. I haven't heard any alternatives put forward by his leader, Mr McGuinty, as to how he proposes to solve some of the problems our province has.
Mr Tilson: Or pay for them. The NDP wants to raise taxes by 30%. Most of his speech was dealt with a negative attitude that has not the positive reflection of what's coming about in our province. I don't know whom he's speaking to. The entire throne speech, the comments from members of the public, at least the public I speak to - maybe he speaks to a different public. I'm sure he does.
Just a few statistics for my friend to comment on in his response: The Conference Board of Canada says that consumer confidence is at its highest level in almost nine years. Department store sales for 1997 recorded the highest yearly increase on record; new car sales are up 17.5% in units and 22.9% in dollars the first 10 months of 1997; housing starts are up 29% in the same period. The conference board projects in 1997 a GDP growth of 4.3% for Ontario, the strongest in the country, and says Ontario's economy will continue to outpace the national average until at least 2001.
That doesn't sound like the terrible province my friend is creating in his comments, nor in any of the other comments of the two leaders of the respective opposition parties, as to where our province is going. People think quite the contrary.
Mr Gerretsen: What the member for Dufferin-Peel didn't talk about was the fact that the number one concern the people of Ontario have from their government is for good, high-quality health care. That remains the number one issue and it's got nothing to do with consumer confidence. It's got to do with the services that people want.
Let's just talk about what Mike Harris talked about to the Rotary Club on May 26, just about nine days before the last election. Let's just deal with the three promises he made at that time and has made many times before that. What did he say about health care? He said he wasn't going to cut one penny out of health care. What, instead, has he done? He's already taken $800 million out and another $500 million is pending. There's a broken promise. What about the second issue dealing with hospital closures, what he said to Robert Fisher on Global TV? He said, "Certainly I can guarantee you, Robert, that it's not my plan to close hospitals." What did he do? To date he has closed 32 hospitals in this province, including the Hotel Dieu Hospital in the city of Kingston, which many of my constituents are very concerned about, it being the only hospital located right in downtown Kingston, which will no longer be there and which in effect has been giving care to the people of Kingston, Ontario, for the last 153 years.
Let's talk about another promise that Mike Harris made. He said, "Under my plan there will be no new user fees when it comes to health care." Let's take a look at the record and what he's done over the last two to three years: $225 million in new user fees for seniors and the poor has been initiated under the drug benefit plan.
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): I want to reinforce some of the information the member for York South provided today, particularly around this government's ability to announce money and then its inability to get it out the door.
If the government thinks that people believed the Minister of Health when she stood in her place today and talked about all the money that's going out for long-term care, they should think again. Last year this government spent $5 million less than the year before on long-term care even though the government announced an additional amount of $170 million to be spent.
Let me give you an example from our part of the world. This government announced last year, as part of the negotiations with the OMA, that it would spend $36.4 million to recruit and retain physicians and specialists in northern Ontario. Four communities in my riding are on that underserviced area list: the town of Capreol, the city of Valley East, the town of Nickel Centre, and Sudbury District East, which make up four small communities in the east part of the riding. Those communities desperately need physicians. This government did not get one penny of the $36.4 million allocated for recruitment and retention of physicians into northern Ontario out the door. Not a single one of those four communities has benefited from an announcement made by this government in 1996.
On the flip side, we have young people who want to come back to northern Ontario. I give you the example of Lyne Giroux, whose family contacted me last week. She's a third year medical student dealing in French. She wants to go into the dermatology program in Ottawa. She went to the regional municipality and asked for funding. They said, "We can probably get money for you from this $36.4 million that the government is going to be spending," or the $1 million that was supposed to be reinvested from the health commission back into our community. She can't get any money to continue her studies to go into the dermatology program because this government can't get that money out the door.
Mr Kennedy: I want to thank the members for Kingston and The Islands and Sudbury East for illuminating and adding to my remarks, and also most particularly the member for Dufferin-Peel. It is very, very heartening to see, from a political perspective, that the members opposite sit firmly with their blinders fixed, unable to see the challenges of this province to help it reach its potential. It's those blinders that are going to make sure this is a one-term government, a government that cannot come to terms with the impacts of what they are doing, of making change and hurting people along the way, that can't stand accountable for that.
I recommend to the member for Dufferin-Peel, should he wish to change that outcome, that he might become one of the members of the back bench or one of the members of this party as a whole, of this government, who can actually speak for some of those people who are being left out of Mike Harris's Ontario, because their number is growing every day. Whether it's people in chronic care beds today or people who are looking for jobs at universities or people trying to get into universities, there needs to be room for them.
I detected even in the harshness of his remarks, which I understand, some level of openness. I hold out that hope for this government as a whole. We would like to see the path they're taking Ontario on mitigated so that people like Lennie Garcia, who was admitted to Queensway hospital last April 19 and waited 10 hours to be assessed with appendicitis, waited another nine and half hours to receive her operation and then had her appendix burst in the operating room - she sends a message to Mike Harris: "Thanks, Mike, for helping me die faster. Because of your closures and cuts many poor people like me are dying. You are playing God, because of you and your cabinet are choosing between the rich and the poor." Perhaps not completely elegant, but extremely appropriate. If the member opposite would listen to more of the Lennie Garcias as well as the people he does take calls from, this province would be a better place today, the throne speech would be substantially different, and health care and the other essential services would be in much better shape.
Mr Wayne Lessard (Windsor-Riverside): You would think, given the length of time that the Legislature had been adjourned after December and up until the time that we heard the throne speech of the government, that we would have seen more of people's great expectations met in that throne speech. For months and months we've heard of many of the things that the government had to do, the tough decisions they had to make, the tough things they had to do with respect to education, for example, and the problems that caused, and the downloading of services on to municipalities and the problems that has caused. I can tell you that in the city of Windsor they still haven't been able to do their budget yet because they still don't have the figures they need from this government in order to put their budget together.
The government wanted to get those things out of the way, and unfortunately they couldn't wait forever. We heard so many things about how this was going to be a kinder, gentler government and a kinder, gentler Mike Harris, and he was going to listen to the people more. Quite frankly, when I heard the speech from the throne, even though I heard those words - that they were listening, that they had heard what people had to say and that they were going to slow down - I was somewhat disappointed. The big expectations that I had with respect to what this government was going to announce, I just didn't have met.
I expected that this government was going to have a great deal to say about health care in the province of Ontario, because I know that in my own constituency office, and I'm sure my colleagues hear the same thing, I hear many complaints from constituents about the quality of health care in my community.
I hear from persons who go to the emergency room at Hotel Dieu or Windsor regional hospital and have to wait there for hours to try and get service in the emergency ward. They tell me that the reason they have to wait is that there are no beds for them in the hospital. If they do get in, they end up in a corridor some place in the hospital. They don't get seen by nurses; they don't get seen by doctors. The reason they can't get admitted into the hospital is they don't have the beds there. The beds are being occupied by persons who should be in long-term-care beds. We all acknowledge that. It was good to see that the government at least acknowledged that there was a shortage of long-term-care beds, not only in Windsor but in other places as well.
We know that much of the funding that's gone in from this government towards health care, even though they like to say that health care was adequately funded when they took over government and that they haven't decreased health care funding, it's hard to find anybody out there who would actually believe that to be the case. However, that's the line this government likes to use. But we know people aren't seeing the services because a lot of that health care funding is going towards closing hospitals and paying the severance pay for nurses and other people who have been the primary deliverers of health care services. It hasn't been going towards providing things like long-term care in our communities. That's why there is such a shortage of long-term-care beds.
The announcement today with respect to what this government is going to invest in long-term care is really a rehashing of some other announcements, announcements that have been made by the health restructuring commission - I think I've got that right; we like to call it the hospital closing commission - which has acknowledged there's a shortage of long-term-care beds in a number of communities in Ontario. To make the numbers look big, this announcement about the number of long-term-care beds that are going to be created projects what is going to be invested over an eight-year period. This is not going to satisfy the demands in our communities for long-term-care beds.
Last year, in the throne speech, it said they announced $100 million in new funding for long-term-care facilities. I suspect, based on the history of this government and the way they make announcements here, probably some of that $100 million was in the announcement that was made today. It'll be lucky if we see the investment this government has promised finally delivered in our communities.
Although we'd love to see more long-term-care beds in the Windsor community - that's something that's been acknowledged by the hospital restructuring commission - we have a beautiful facility in our community now. It's called the Malden Park Continuing Care Centre.
As a result of the announcements and the changes this government has made, that facility that was paid for by fund-raising in our community to the amount of about $10 million is probably going to be faced with closure. They expect those beds are going to be closed and will be moved to another hospital. We're in danger of losing the Malden Park long-term-care facility unless its designated as a chronic care hospital, which this government has already said they're not going to do.
Even though we have a facility that we could be using for a long-term-care facility, this government says, "It's not adequate; you need to rebuild it someplace else." That's where part of that money is going to go, to build another facility that we don't need and be faced with the closure of a beautiful facility in our community, which I suspect as a result of the decrease in funding by this government will probably end up being sold to the private sector.
That's the other part of what I see through the announcement that was made today about long-term care. That is, this is really privatization through the back door. We know that long-term care isn't covered under the Canada Health Act. Therefore, if you move people out of hospitals where they're in acute-care beds, where they are covered by the Canada Health Act, and into long-term-care beds that aren't covered, then you can privatize those types of services to more patients. Get them out of the hospital, get them into the long-term-care service and then sell that to the private sector so they can benefit from the public investment in long-term health care in the province of Ontario.
That's wrong. We disagree with that. We don't believe this is the direction to go. We're not like our Liberal colleagues, who say, "This government is just moving too far too fast." We say when it comes to things like the privatization of health care, this is just the wrong direction. It's not the direction that we would go and it's one we fundamentally disagree with.
In the city of Windsor we were involved in the restructuring of our health care system long before this government got elected and felt obliged to send the hospital restructuring commission in to undo a lot of the work we had done in our community already. As a matter of fact, a lot of work was done and we came up with this Win-Win report. It was the plan for total health system reconfiguration in the Windsor and Essex county area. That was a plan where we voluntarily agreed to close one hospital, the Grace Hospital in Windsor, so we didn't have to have the hospital closing commission come in and tell us that we needed to close a hospital. A part of that plan also meant that the Malden Park hospital would continue to exist and provide long-term-care services to people who needed them in our community.
Now what we have is a community care access centre in our community, something else I'm getting complaints about in my office, and another area where we can see the move towards privatization, an agenda which this government seems to strongly agree with.
Last week someone came into my office with a letter from the community care access centre. It was addressed to his wife. It said: "The services that you have been provided for the last 12 years, we're not going to be providing them to you any more. Here are some places where now you can get those services." It lists the social services department, private health care providers and a number of other places. Of course, they could always go out and purchase those services themselves; that's always an option that's available.
Hopefully this family is one that would be able to afford to purchase those services elsewhere, but I'm sure there are a great number of people, not only in Windsor but in other places, who are being threatened with the cutting off of their services by the community care access centre - because we know those centres are being underfunded - who will have no options. They won't be able to go out to the private sector and purchase those, and they will be left without those services that they've been able to rely on for years and years. We think that's the wrong direction to go as well.
Maybe one of the reasons that the CCACs were set up was for the purposes of cutting people off some of those services that have been provided in the past, to insulate that level of accountability that previously was there for the government. Now they have the CCACs making these decisions. They send out these letters saying, "Because of funding constraints, we're no longer able to provide these services." Who are people going to complain to? They complain to me; they can complain to the CCACs. The CCACs just say, "We're not getting the funding from the government," and that's basically the end of the story.
That's not the way the health care system should operate here. We shouldn't be setting up organizations in the community for the sole purpose of preventing people from being able to complain directly to a government that should be accountable for this underfunding and the decisions they make.